In a Great Man's House Summary
by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

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In a Great Man's House Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the great man’s house, the word of Khan Sahib is law. A renowned musician who attracts listeners, students, and researchers from far and wide, Khan Sahib is the undisputed lord of the house. His wife, Hamida, is torn between her pride in him and her bondage to him. The story opens as Hamida receives a letter from her brother, who resides in the town where she was raised, inviting her to attend his daughter’s wedding. When Hamida tells Khan Sahib about this invitation, he rules that she cannot attend the wedding because it will take place at the same time as a music conference at which her services as a hostess are needed. Hamida is upset, both by Khan Sahib’s high-handedness and by the thought of missing a joyous family gathering.

Later that morning Hamida’s younger sister Roxana visits her to discuss travel plans. This visit further upsets Hamida’s equilibrium. Although she wants to impress on her sister the importance of Khan Sahib’s role at the music conference and the importance of her own role there (mainly to supervise the kitchen), she also envies Roxana’s freedom to attend their niece’s wedding—whose organization she herself would manage, were she to attend. Roxana sympathizes with her sister’s disappointment, but it is clear that she has actually come to her wealthy sister looking for financial help. To help advance her cause, she has brought her daughter and son along.

Roxana wastes no time in throwing her children at Hamida and Khan Sahib. The latter, uncomfortable in family situations, immediately orders Hamida to take the young girl shopping to buy her fineries for the wedding. Hamida resents Roxana’s greedy readiness to leave her daughter behind for the shopping expedition. After her sister leaves, Hamida again pleads with her husband to let her go to her niece’s wedding. While reclining majestically on his bed, Khan Sahib dismisses her pleas and orders her to massage his legs. Hamida then collapses in tears and moans about her greatest sorrow—as she always does in such situations—the fact that her husband has sent her only son, Sajid, away to a boarding school in the hills. Tired of Hamida’s tears, Khan Sahib wearily dismisses her.

In the other room, Hamida finds her niece waiting patiently for her. She tries to be kind to the girl, telling her stories about her cousin Sajid, who will be home for the holidays in two weeks, and she questions the girl about the food that she eats at home—suspicious that her sister’s household does not feed the children properly. At this moment, a telegram from her brother arrives, asking her to come immediately as she is urgently needed for the wedding preparations. Khan Sahib remains unimpressed by this new call for Hamida’s presence at the wedding. Although Hamida shrieks that she will go anyway, both she and her husband know that she will not go.

Hamida now amuses herself by feeding Roxana’s daughter, whom she believes is too thin. She takes the girl to Khan Sahib and is touched by his gentleness with the girl. After she attends to his needs...

(The entire section is 816 words.)