Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2238
The eight interconnected short stories in Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders describe the lives of the family, employees, servants, and acquaintances of aging landlord K. K. Harouni. These stories are set in the Punjab region of Pakistan and explore the state of feudalism and its influence on modern life.
The manager of the wells on K. K. Harouni’s farm in Dunyapur, Nawabdin is a master at rigging the meters to cheat the electric company. Nawab is a tireless worker who takes on many odd jobs to feed the thirteen children whom he has with his wife. Nawab’s status increases after he convinces his master, Harouni, to provide him with a motorcycle and gas allowance to get around on the farm.
One evening as Nawab attends to his work, a poor traveler stops him on the road that leads from the city and begs a ride. After some consideration, Nawab submits. But while riding, the man points a gun at Nawab’s back and demands that he hand over the motorcycle. Nawab fights for his precious possession, and the man shoots him in the groin. The noise from the gun alerts the nearby villagers, who come to Nawab’s rescue and shoot the robber with a rifle. Both men are taken to the village’s clinic, where the attending pharmacist treats Nawab but pronounces the imminent death of the robber. On his deathbed, the robber begs Nawab’s forgiveness, but Nawab considers that the man would have left him to die in the road and refuses to pardon the robber. The man dies, and Nawab is happy that he fought for what is rightfully his.
Saleema comes from a family of addicts and criminals, so she offers her body as a sexual object to obtain opportunities. When a seemingly worthy suitor comes into her village, she leaves with him and goes to Lahore. There she becomes one of the maids of a wealthy man, K. K. Harouni, while her husband falls prey to amphetamines. Almost immediately, Saleema begins sleeping with the staff cook, Hassan, in return for special treats from the kitchen. When Hassan tires of Saleema and gives her the cold shoulder, she feels that her life is hopeless—until she catches the eye of the senior driver, Rafik. Although Rafik is married with two sons and is many years older than Saleema, the two begin a love affair. Saleema gets pregnant and births the couple’s son, whom they name Allah Baksh, the God-gifted one. Then one day Rafik’s wife sends him a letter saying that she and the boys miss him, and she comes to Lahore to live with Rafik. When Saleema is sent back to her drug-addicted husband, she is distraught. When Harouni dies, his daughters decide to sell the estate and provide new jobs for only the most senior staff. Saleema asks Rafik if he will look after her and their son, but he denies her. Saleema moves away and turns to heroin to ease her troubles. She dies, and her son is left to roam the streets.
After a string of bad investments push him into serious debt, K. K. Harouni begins to sell his land in Dunyapur cheaply to anyone who will pay. His land manager, Chaudrey Jaglani, oversees these affairs. Jaglani himself never lets an opportunity pass him by. Jaglani has padded his pockets over the years and bought land unbeknownst to Harouni; he has become a leading man in Dunyapur.
One day his driver, Mustafa, asks him to employ his sister Zainab, who has left her husband in the city. Jaglani agrees and keeps Zainab on staff because she is a good cook. Over time, he finds affection for Zainab, who attends to his every need. Jaglani insists that Zainab divorce her husband and move into his home as his second wife, and when Zainab refuses, Jaglani makes the arrangements anyway. After the two are married, Jaglani falls in love with Zainab, but he knows that she does not feel the same about him. A year passes, and Zainab realizes that she is infertile. She asks Jaglani to give her the youngest daughter of his son Shabir. Jaglani submits.
Eventually, Jaglani falls ill with bone cancer, and his doctor gives him only six months to live. Mustafa relays the news to Zainab, and she knows that her husband will not provide for her after his death. Jaglani only cares that his son be given his political power, and the politicians in town promise to see that Shabir be voted into Jaglani’s position. Jaglani dies, cursing Zainab for never having loved him. Shabir is eager to step into his father’s influential position but is ousted by the others in the government.
“About a Burning Girl”
The unnamed narrator of this story is a sessions court judge in the Lahore High Court. His wife is a hard woman, yet surprisingly she allows one of their servants, Khadim, to go on an extended vacation to visit his ailing mother. Two days later, Khadim’s brother calls and says that Khadim has been arrested for murdering his sister-in-law. Life in the judge’s home is difficult in Khadim’s absence, so the judge decides to see if he can find out the details of the case.
The judge learns from Khadim’s brother that his wife stole money from someone in a neighboring village and that she committed suicide to avoid being caught by the police. The brother attempts to talk the judge into seeing that the case is tried on its true merits. The judge reminds him that there is always a cost. Khadim’s brother attempts to use the name of K. K. Harouni to further his cause, but the judge does not respect this. By the end of their conversation, the judge comes to the conclusion that the woman did not commit suicide but was murdered by her husband, with whom the judge is speaking. The family begs for Khadim’s release and is willing to pay a large bribe. The sessions judge confirms through his network that Judge Aftar will preside over the case; he makes it a point to go speak to the judge, presumably to include him in the bribe as well.
“In Other Rooms, Other Wonders”
Husna needs a job, so she goes to the home of K. K. Harouni with a letter from his estranged wife, whom she has served for years. Husna hopes that her familial relationship to K. K. will exact some sympathy. K. K. agrees to take on Husna and has her come to his home on some afternoons to learn typing skills from his secretary. Eventually Husna begins to regularly accompany K. K. on his walks around the estate. K. K. invites Husna to have dinner with him, and from this point their relationship grows more serious.
In his old age, K. K. enjoys the company of the younger woman, and Husna is conniving and seeks to better her position in the Harouni household. Others around Harouni disapprove of the relationship, especially his daughter Sarwat, who refuses even to be in Husna’s presence. But Harouni likes peace and harmony, so he chooses to disregard the opinions of his family, friends, and staff, and Husna suffers the disrespect of those around her, hoping to one day have influence over them. Husna eventually moves into the home and takes the room next to Harouni’s bedroom.
All is well until Harouni falls ill and is taken to the hospital. His daughters refuse to allow Husna to see him, and he dies before Husna can see him again. The sisters call Husna for a conference and tell her that she must leave the home immediately, taking only the trunks containing her belongings. Husna thinks she should stand up for herself and take nothing but the meager belongings with which she arrived; however, she cannot afford to do that. The next morning, the drivers take Husna back to the Old City.
“Our Lady of Paris”
After Sohail and Helen date for two years while they are students at Yale University, they spend time apart when Sohail returns to his family’s home in Pakistan. The couple agrees to meet each other in Paris for the Christmas holiday. Sohail’s parents, Amjad and Rafia Harouni, want to meet their son’s girlfriend, so they decide to also spend the holiday in Paris. They meet for dinner, and Helen is taken by how intimidating Rafia appears during conversation. But Sohail assures Helen that his parents like her. On Christmas Eve, the Harounis get tickets for a ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty. While there, Helen suddenly realizes that she feels out of place among the others, who appear so false. Unsettled, Helen tells Sohail that she no longer wants to spend time in Paris around his parents, so they decide to rent a cottage outside the city to celebrate the New Year.
Before they depart, Rafia tells Helen that she would like to meet with her alone. The women meet at a coffee shop, and Rafia inquires about Helen’s plans for her future with Sohail. Helen admits that they have not talked much about the future, and Rafia tells Helen that because Sohail is gentle by nature, he will do whatever makes Helen happy. Then Rafia says that living for another will cost Sohail genuine happiness and that in America he will be robbed of his sense of self. Once in the country, Sohail wanders through a maze, and after he conquers it, Helen begins to realize the truth in Rafia’s words.
Leila, known as Lily, is a young, incredibly attractive young woman who lives in Islamabad. She spends much of her time at parties accompanied by her friend Mino. Lily has no trouble attracting men, and she sleeps with them gratuitously. One evening while at a party, Murad Talwan approaches Lily. After talking for half an hour, Lily gives him her telephone number on a whim, thinking that he will likely not call her. But he does call a few days later, and the two arrange to have a picnic lunch near the river. They continue to date, and a few months later the couple decided to marry. Murad’s father is ailing and his mother is dead, so there is little room for criticism from his side of the family. However, Lily’s family and companions do not foresee any good coming from the marriage—Lily’s life is and has always been one of ultimate freedom. But the two secretly exchange vows in their room, and they have a small ceremony for the benefit of guests. Murad then moves Lily to his father’s farm in Jalpana, where he takes over the business and settles into the life of a farmer.
For a while, Lily is content in this new life, but soon she misses her friends and the excitement of the city. She invites a small group of friends to have a party at the farm, and that weekend Mino arrives with a date of his own, a woman named Zora, and an old fling of Lily’s, a man named Bumpy. Murad decides to not stay up late, and Lily winds up having sex with Bumpy on a chaise near the pool. She feels quite guilty because Murad treats her well. After Lily secretly reads Murad’s journal and learns of his fears about her behavior and their marriage, she begins to resent her relationship with Murad. After a fight one evening, Lily leaves the house and runs into the mango orchard, where she realizes that staying in her marriage means a future of absolute confinement.
“A Spoiled Man”
Mohammed Rezak is a bowlegged old man whose siblings have taken his livelihood away from him. Thus, he stands on the outskirts of Sohail Harouni’s estate, hoping to make himself useful. One afternoon, he helps the estate’s majordomo, Ghulam Rasool, carry gardening equipment from the staff truck. When Rezak proposes himself as a handy addition to the servant pool, Ghulam Rasool makes the arrangements with his employers. The mistress of the estate, Sonya, has brought many trees and flowering shrubs from America, and Rezak is put in charge of taking care of the garden. On the outskirts of the garden, Rezak erects his own cubicle, for which he can now afford many luxuries. But Rezak has always wanted a child and he agrees to pay a significant sum for the simple-minded young daughter of an acquaintance. The girl is afraid of Rezak at first, but he tempts her with sweets, and soon she seems to grow accustomed to him. But one day while Rezak works in the garden, she runs away, and many are put to the task of searching for her. The majordomo asks Sonya to get the police involved, and she puts in a call on Rezak’s behalf. Ironically, the police arrive and take Rezak into custody, accusing him of selling his wife into prostitution. They beat the old man and try to make him confess. When they realize that Rezak is innocent, they tell him to keep quiet and they return him to the Harouni’s estate. Rezak dies a little while later and is buried on the edge of the garden.
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