Running a small shop in the village, Sardar Aka has integrated well into the village, after arriving many years ago as a refugee. He is popular and his wisdom respected. However, he sacrifices respect the moment he walks into his own home. Here he finds his two wives: Gulnara and Sakina. And no peace. He married Sakina recently after Gulnara failed to give him a son and Gulnara is still livid because he clearly prefers Sakina.
He does his best to mediate in his wives’ quarrels and show them both fairness and kindness. But his attitude to the young Sakina is plain indulgent and this makes Gulnara angrier and angrier. Now Sakina is pregnant he is delighted, but the problem with Gulnara is only getting worse.
Sardar Aka is an important member of the village jirga and never afraid to express his views, even in front of those with a higher status than him. He is progressive, supporting the education of women: in fact, his two younger daughters (Kashmala is the oldest) are soon to return to the village to participate in the new madrassah education.
Gulnara is Sardar Aka’s first wife and has three daughters, Kashmala, Gulmeena and Zarmeena, but no male child. She cannot control her resentment towards her husband’s new wife and constantly looks for excuses to fight with her, making the atmosphere at home tense. Maybe she enjoys being resentful but beneath her anger is a deep hurt at her husband’s rejection and the way he clearly prefers his second wife.
Gulnara is anxious to blame Sakina for anything which goes wrong and when she suspects that her two daughters are being brought home (from faraway family) to help the pregnant Sakina, insists that they attend the madrassah – even though she is opposed to the education of women.
Gulnara is a very superstitious person and believes in black magic, along with other local traditions and customs.
Twenty five year old Sakina is Sardar Aka’s second wife. She is now pregnant with her first child.
How to cope with Gulnara’s constant hostility? She tries to see the woman as an older sister but the reality is that she knows herself to be the favoured wife and can’t help enjoying her status, no matter how much she tries to hide this. With Sardar Aka she is always sweet and submissive, which drives Gulnara mad. Because when Sardar Aka is not around, Sakina is a great deal less saccharine. Could Sakina make more effort to manage relations with Gulnara and annoy the older woman less? And could she try harder to understand how hard her presence and Sardar Aka’s favouritism is for Gulnara?
Sakina gets on well with the young women of the village, like Kashmala (a friendship which annoys Gulnara greatly.) She believes in the education of women and does not subscribe to superstition.