After Khader’s death, the Bombay underworld slowly changes. Salman takes over as the head of the council and upholds Khader’s way of doing things – but everyone knows this way to be short-lived. There’s too much money in vice – in drugs, prostitution and pornography – to ignore it. Ashok Chandrashekar, known as Chuha (“the rat”), represents this new, unprincipled way of running a mafia. He makes his money in scummy operations and he is looking to take over Salman’s piece of the pie as well. Sanjay wants to strike a deal with Chuha, which Lin argues against at a meeting.
Lin leaves the council and boxes with Abdullah. They discuss Chuha and Abdullah reveals that he wants to kill him. He reports that Chuha has been in discussions with his Iranian enemies and suspects Chuha of having been involved in the betrayal of Khader. They then have a meal with Scorpio George, Gemini George and Vikram. These men have a surprise for Lin: they show him Modena. Dreadfully disfigured and hiding in the shadows, Modena runs when Lin approaches him. After a chase, they have a talk. Modena reveals that he makes his money by performing at rich peoples’ houses, pretending to be a demon who gets scared away from their newborn sons’ cradles. Modena thanks Lin for killing Maurizio, and refuses to believe Lin’s protestations that he did not commit this slaying. He reports that he spends his time waiting for Ulla to return. He’s convinced of her love for him.
Chapter Forty-One continues to document Lin’s rise in the mafia. He has been invited to the wedding of a Rajubhai’s daughter – a sure sign of his acceptance into the trust of the council. Lin makes his way to Leopold’s, where he sees Didier’s new infatuation, an Italian man named Arturo, as well as Vikram, Letitia, Lisa Carter, Cliff De Souza and Chandra Mehta and some others. Lin tells us that Cliff De Souza and Kavita Singh are together. Lin also meets Karla’s new boyfriend, Ranjit Choudry; their rapport is icy at first but Ranjit is very likable and Lin soon succumbs to his charm. Didier reports that he is traveling to Italy and Lin recommends the Georges as housesitters.
Johnny Cigar finds Lin at Leopold’s and urges him back to the slum, saying that there is trouble. When they arrive, Lin learns that Kano, the trained bear, escaped from prison and is now a fugitive. They have a plan to smuggle the bear to safety, but they must cook up a disguise for him first. After trying several disguises, including a burkha, Lin gets an idea: they should disguise the bear as a massive Hindu god and roll him down the street as though they are celebrating a festival. Lin arranges for this operation and it comes off splendidly.
He then reports to his mafia connections, where he learns that the gang has an opportunity to rub out Chuha’s entire mafia council at one stroke. Salman has infiltrated the council with a double agent, Little Tony, and now knows that Chuha was indeed involved in the Sapna-Iran connection. The mafia men arm themselves for the coming battle and Lin insists that he come along too. Salman assigns Andrew Ferreira to take care of Tariq – a job that Andrew thinks is beneath him. Andrew curses Lin, upset that a gora is allowed to participate in the hit when he is not, and they almost fight but Andrew backs down.
At the house where the hit is to take place, Lin and Abdullah take up a position together. They sneak into the house and split up. A group of Chuha’s thugs sneaks up on Lin and incapacitates him. Just as they are about to finish him off, Abdullah bursts in and a fight breaks out. In the end, Lin and Abdullah are able to beat their attackers. They meet Mahmoud Mabeef and realize that the operation is over – that they’ve successfully killed Chuha’s men. Unfortunately, however, they lost two men – one of whom, Salman, was Khader’s last loyal representative on the council.
In the final chapter of Shantaram, Lin reports that the council has changed in nature – they have taken over Chuha’s prostitution ring and expect to become very rich indeed. Lin meets with Abdullah and Nazeer, who tell him that they are planning to go to Sri Lanka to fight in another war and that they want him to come as well. Lin accepts their offer.
He then hops on his bike and cruises out to the beach, where he meets Karla. She tells him that Khaled Ansari is still living – he walked all the way from Afghanistan and has attracted a following as a holy man. She says that Khaled is likely on his way to meet Idriss, Khader’s teacher, whom the mafia boss never told Lin about. Karla also tells Lin that Modena and Ulla have had a ghastly love-reunion after all: she returned from Germany rolling in inheritance money and found Modena. Karla asks Lin if he wants to accompany her on a search for Khaled. She says that she is likely to marry Ranjit but that they lead “separate lives” and that she is free to spend her time with whomever she chooses. Lin brushes off her offer and tells her that he knows about her history – about the killing. She spills more guts, telling Lin that she was the one who thought of the Sapna idea, though it went much further than she had planned. After a difficult conversation about their past, Lin and Karla kiss goodbye and part.
The novel closes with a few more chance meetings: Lin runs into Mukesh, from Arthur Road Prison, who tells him that he has joined Sapna’s army. The legend continues, apparently. Later, Lin runs into Kishan, Rukhmabai and Pavarti, Prabaker’s parents and widow. They address him as Shantaram and invite him to see Pavarti and Prabaker’s child. Lin is astonished to find that the infant looks exactly like Prabaker. And on that image – Prabaker’s beaming smile reborn – the novel closes.
The final chapters of Roberts’ novel resolve the story in some ways, but not in others. In the former category, the shift toward a “new mafia,” which has been a long time coming, seems to finally arrive with the death of Salman in the raid on Chuha’s council. The remaining Khader loyalists – Abdullah, Nazeer, and (we expect) Lin – have turned away from the criminal aspect of Khader’s legacy and embraced the “holy war” element, deciding to travel to Sri Lanka to fight in the religious war there. It has taken Lin over nine hundred pages to truly belong to Bombay (a status signaled in several episodes in these closing chapters, such as his joking exchange in Marathi with the cabbie in the beginning of Chapter Forty-One); but just as he truly belongs, he doesn’t. The mafia is embracing an edgier, scummier approach and Lin wants out.
Meanwhile, Roberts also gives Lin’s relationship with Karla a cadence, to some extent. Their long conversation doesn’t lead to reconciliation, but it does end in honesty. From the beginning of Lin’s relationship with Karla, he has been careful to walk a thin line between loving and trusting her. Lin puts it best in the opening chapters: “It’s a fact of life on the run that you often love more people than you trust. For people in the safe world, of course, exactly the opposite is true” (156). It turns out that both Karla and Lin were playing the same game, to a degree – gleaning information about one another, prying into past mysteries, never fully trusting. By the end, Lin trusts but does not love Karla, precisely the opposite of his condition throughout most of the novel. This reversal gives a sense of an ending to their relationship, even if there is no dramatic farewell or passionate affirmation.
Similarly, Roberts brings back (rather conveniently, one might feel) Prabaker, though in an altered form: through his son. He even runs into Prabaker’s parents, who have come to Bombay presumably to see their grandson. They address him as Shantaram, “the man of peace,” a title that shows the arc of the book (reminding us of his past epiphanies and experiences). The regeneration of Prabaker and the return of Abdullah both give the novel a rather sunny feel at its close, as though Lin has emerged from the despair that overwhelmed him at times in Part Four. Life is random and awful, but it’s also generous and fulfilling. Ensuing generations take up the energy of the past, and Prabaker’s smile lives on in his son. It’s worth speculating whether Roberts found the inspiration for this cyclical ending in the Hindu and Buddhist notions of reincarnation. Several characters experience rebirths – Khaled Ansari is another example – and this is quite fitting at the close of Lin’s tale. Lin, after all, has experienced multiple rebirths himself in the course of the story.
But for all of that, the end of Shantaram does not have the familiar feeling of most novels – of things having been “tied up.” It might well continue for another thousand pages, tracking Lin’s adventure in Sri Lanka, his reunion with Khaled, etc. Indeed, Roberts has announced plans for several more novels tracing the life of his protagonist – following up as well as preceding the events of Shantaram.
All of which leads to a central issue in the text that has gone unmentioned in the analysis so far: the distinction between novel and memoir. The events of Shantaram are largely based on Roberts’ own life. He has reported in interviews that the major plot points of the novel actually happened to him, and that the fictionalization only adds coherence, flow and some subplots to the events in the book. Shantaram, then, takes on issues of the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing with more urgency than other works. One is invited to wonder to what degree Lin and Roberts are the same entity. What is “true” in this book and what isn’t? Or, what is “true” at all?
In the end, the novel takes part in the same philosophical enquiries that fascinate so many of its characters. Lin/Roberts suggests that the only way to wrest control of one’s life is to author it – to take up the pen. Khader “wrote” Lin’s part, but Lin/Roberts writes Khader’s. He feeds Khader his dialogue, guides the course of his story, leaves him to die in the dramatic fashion he chooses. This is perhaps the ultimate account of freedom in the novel – that despite a life of constant bondage one can still control the telling of that life and thereby attain a measure of freedom over it. Way back in Chapter Two, when we are just getting to know Karla and Didier, Lin tells them (and us) that freedom is the most important thing in his life. Shantaram is, above all, a testament to this commitment. On this basis, one can perhaps provide a tentative answer to the question of why Shantaram was written as a novel and not as a memoir – because a memoir is enslaved to the past, to some degree. A novel is comparatively free. Shantaram represents Roberts’ triumph over his own difficult and thrilling life – which he is free to tell, tweak and reorder as he pleases.