Shantaram Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31-36


At the Bombay airport, Khader, Nazeer and Lin prepare their long journey through Pakistan to Afghanistan. In Pakistan, they do not communicate for fear of Russian spies, instead rendezvousing at a hotel. After a description of the black market along the border of the two countries, Lin runs into Khaled Ansari, also on his way to the holy war. After sharing a sweet Pakistani drink, Khaled introduces Lin to Ahmed Zadeh, a socialist Muslim resisting the communist Russians (who he does not recognize as “true” communists). They then meet with a few of the approximately thirty men who will make up their small battalion – a group that includes some familiar faces (Khader, Nazeer) and some new (including Mahmoud Melbaaf, an Iranian who bears a striking resemblance to Abdullah). Just before they depart, Pakistani police raid their hotel room, but they are tipped off in advance and able to escape with all their effects.

They enter a mosque where the Blind Singers are performing and after recalling his introduction to the singers he realizes that Khader had been planning this jaunt into Afghanistan for as long as they were acquainted. Khader soon arrives and reveals that the raid on their hotel room was the result of a betrayal – someone in the inner circle was trying to “finish them off.” And, speaking of betrayals, Lin receives a note from Didier revealing that the person who arranged for his arrest in Bombay was Madame Zhou.

In Chapter Thirty-Two, Lin recounts a long month of waiting in Quetta for the go-ahead to cross into Afghanistan. While they wait, Khader tells Lin something of his past, including his youthful training in English under Mr. Ian Donald Mackenzie Esquire. After this tutorship, Khader was involved in a costly Afghani blood feud. Because he was the motivating figure in the feud, he moved from Afghanistan to Bombay to put a stop to it. In Bombay he became involved in the mafia operations of Chota Gulab. He reveals that he worked as an assassin for the mafia before rising in power.

On the night before they leave for Afghanistan, Khader teaches Lin how to clean his Stechkin rifle. The next morning, they take a train into the Chaman pass, where they meet the remaining members of their band of holy warriors. Among these is an insane man, Habib Abdur Rahman, whose fellow villagers were viciously slaughtered by the Russians. Driven mad with rage, Habib’s bloodlust for the Russians and all who help them is insatiable. Habib initially thinks that Lin is a Russian and tries to attack him until the others explain that they are on the same side. Habib’s behavior disturbs the others, but Khaled, who sees some of his own hatred in Habib’s insanity, offers to look after him.

Chapter Thirty-Three describes Lin’s journey deep into Afghanistan on horseback. Nazeer chooses a magnificent horse for Lin and the warriors travel into the mountains, taking turns walking and riding. Habib acts as their guide, leading the group through a treacherous mountain pass in pitch darkness to avoid spies. Suddenly the booming of fighter jets breaks the silence; the noise startles the horses, and Lin is nearly tossed into an abyss but manages to hang on. More adventures follow – the band is stopped numerous times by local pirates, who receive tribute and leave them to continue. Habib, meanwhile, continues his insane ways, setting “man-traps” along the way.

One of these adventures is more involved than the others. A local holy leader, Hajji Mohammed, stops the group with gunfire. Lin is called forth to speak with this leader, who asks him when their warriors will be supplied with stinger missiles. Lin gives him a practiced lie – “[S]oon, if Allah wills it” (701) – after which Hajji Mohammed invites the band to enjoy a wedding feast. Khader carefully describes the customs of the celebration to Lin. After this festivity, Lin and Khader discuss the mafia leader’s theory of the universe once more. He explains the basis of his thought in astrophysics and provides Lin with two questions to ask anyone who thinks he or she knows it all: “What is an objective, universally acceptable definition of good and evil? And, What is the relationship between consciousness and matter?” (708).

The next day, the troop moves north through the Hada Mountains. That night, they have their first serious gunfight. Many men and animals are injured in the battle – including Lin’s wonderful horse – and Habib finishes off the wounded animals. Having witnessed the death of Madjid, one of their fighters, Lin slips into shock, but Khaled talks him out of it. Lin then attempts to fix the wounded, setting a painful broken arm, before their journey continues. They finally approach their destination, a guerilla camp, and Lin – ridiculously – falls out of his saddle just as they arrive at safety, causing general laughter. As they settle into relative comfort, Lin and Khaled witness Habib kill one of the injured men, Siddiqi. Khaled rushes to tell Khader but Habib disappears into the night before they can detain him. The warriors sleep uneasily, fearing that Habib is watching them.

Chapter Thirty-Four begins with an account of Lin’s life at the guerilla camp. Lin doesn’t go into battle but he helps in the workshops and stables at the camp. Lin and Khader also grow closer still as the older man tells Lin the history of Afghanistan, including his own ambivalent relationship to British rule there. During a heart-to-heart, Lin tells Khader that he feels him to be more of a father than his own. Khader finds this distressing. They continue discussing Khader’s cosmo-theological theories. Lin also learns that the poem he copied from Karla’s journal is not hers, but the work of a Sufi poet named Sadiq Khan.

Piecing together information, Lin finally realizes that the Indian businessman who rescued Karla on the plane is none other than Khader himself. From here, he determines that Karla recruited Lin for Khader’s service. The thought that he has been set up all along – a pawn in Khader and Karla’s plans – upset Lin to the core. It turns out that Khader has been in control of every episode in Lin’s story – including the establishment of the slum clinic, where Khader was able to test the medication that he received from the lepers. Lin is furious at this news. Still worse, he learns that Khader knew very quickly about Lin’s confinement in Arthur Road Prison but let him remain there while he did business with Madame Zhou.

With all the passion that he once loved his teacher, Lin suddenly hates him completely. He feels utterly betrayed. Later, as Khader readies his journey back to Pakistan, Lin decides not to travel with him, opting instead to stay with Khaled at the camp rather than journey with the mafia boss.

With Chapter Thirty-Five comes tragedy. Three days after Khader’s departure, Nazeer arrives at the camp dragging two figures – one, the badly wounded Ahmed Zadeh, the other, the dead body of Abdel Khader Khan. Lin holds Khader’s corpse, hoping to revive it. When he recovers from the initial shock, he checks on Ahmed, who is wounded beyond hope. Nazeer eventually recovers from exhaustion, buries Khader ceremoniously before he has even had a glass of water, and at a meeting called by the now-senior Suleiman Shahbadi tells of their hostile encounter with an Afghani warlord. Habib had been terrorizing the countryside, torturing and killing almost indiscriminately, and the warlord demanded retribution. Khader tried to leave this meeting peacefully, but it erupted into a costly gunfight in which eighteen of Khader’s entourage died. Nazeer then dragged Khader and Ahmed three kilometers back to the camp.

Just as this narrative ends, Habib himself appears and informs them that he knows the positions of Russian-friendly Afghani forces. The camp decides to trust Habib and launch a mortar attack on these positions. Their attack goes awry, however, when a Russian helicopter appears. Following a vividly described battle, only eleven of the twenty members of the camp are still standing. Lin does his best to help the wounded but most succumb to their horrific injuries. The Russians move on to the north, attempting to find and kill Habib, while the remaining members of the guerilla camp hide in a mountain cave.

Chapter Thirty-Six opens as the survivors run out of food; they are forced to make a break for the Pakistani border. Two young fighters, Hanif and Juma, disappear in an attempt to scout enemy positions. Finally, as the camp is starving, Habib appears and reveals that he has been near them all along. He reports that they have one chance to break through Russian lines if they follow him the next day. After some debate, the soldiers decide they have no other choice. Suleiman allows them to eat their last vestiges of meat – rotten goat legs (which had previously been rejected according to Muslim custom) in preparation for their escape. The night before, Lin and Ahmed have a long talk in which Lin learns that Khaled had once been a lover of Karla’s. They also talk about Abdullah and Khader (Khaled didn’t much like the former because he “didn’t believe in anything” (767) and assures Lin that Khader loved him despite his machinations).

Habib crawls by for a final enigmatic word of encouragement for Lin – “strong men make their own luck” – after which he speaks with Khaled. Lin drifts off to speak to the other men but is called back by a piercing scream. He finds that Khaled has killed Habib with his knife. It turns out that Habib had killed the two scouts, Hanif and Juma. Jalalaad, a courageous young fighter, attacks Habib’s dead body in revenge. After murdering Habib, Khaled wanders off into the wilderness in a daze. Lin cannot stop him.

The next day, Lin and the five remaining men rush at the Russian position as Habib had told them. They are under mortar attack as they run and Lin witnesses Jalaad’s death. Nevertheless, Lin feels a glorious rush as he screams into battle. A mortar explodes nearby and he slips into unconsciousness.


If there’s a major “movement” in the Pakistan/Afghanistan chapters comparable to the turn to darkness we saw in the last section of the novel, one might call it the turn to disillusionment. Lin finds himself involved in a war that is not his for a reason he can’t quite understand himself. Indeed, in the course of these chapters he rationalizes the journey to Afghanistan in several ways. He reports that he has a “death wish” following the loss of his two close friends, Prabaker and Abdullah; he tells Karla that he feels a sense of duty and debt to Khader (presumably following his rescue from Arthur Road and from the opium den) (658); he further claims that the trip to Afghanistan fits into a sense of destiny, as though the whole of his life has been a prelude to this decision.

However passionately proclaimed, these explanations pale next to a more basic motivation: Lin loves Khader entirely. He has placed on Khader all the awesome power a son feels for his father, and he goes to Afghanistan for the simple reason that Khader asks him to go. Lin’s reverence of Khader is perhaps the most pure love he feels in the whole course of this sprawling novel. Imagine his sense of betrayal, then, when he pieces together Khader’s hidden role in the events preceding – in the establishment of the clinic, in his relationship with Karla, etc. At the moment of this revelation, Lin’s life – his attempt at redemption – appears meaningless. His own father has forsaken him (which is perhaps another wink at the Christ narrative).

Of course, it’s unclear to what extent Khader has consciously manipulated Lin. When Lin declares that Khader is a better father to him than his own had been, Khader is suddenly disturbed (730). He perhaps senses that he took things a bit far with Lin – who turns out to be an extremely sensitive, rather trusting man, for all his toughness and occasional proclamations of cynicism. His fathering of Lin, purely figurative from his perspective, has almost literally replaced the role of the father from Lin’s perspective. Khader seems to genuinely like Lin even as he uses him; for Lin, it’s not enough to be liked, he must be loved and trusted with the same utter abandon that he feels for others.

This move to disillusionment with Khader puts a twist on many of the thematic strands already developed in the book. To look at a couple of these, Lin has repeatedly remarked that fate works in an unpredictable way. The skills he built in the past (helping his junkie friends out of overdoses, for instance) find new manifestations in the future (providing medical help for the poor in the slum). Lin’s sense of life’s flow is thus rather random and awesome – one can merely follow one’s instincts, trusting the river of time to take one through the motions of destiny (or something like that). Khader’s revelation, though, presents an opposite version of fate. Khader leaves little to chance – he designs people’s lives, controlling their own sense of events. Lin’s free-flowing, catch-as-catch-can experience in Bombay, it turns out, was neither spontaneous nor innocent. Khader had largely plotted it in advance; he had planned so far as Lin’s journey to Afghanistan at the moment of their meeting. Lin’s fate was firmly under control, even in those matters he felt to be most meaningful and redemptive (especially the slum clinic, which is revealed to have been a guinea pig operation to test the medication to be used in Afghanistan).

Given Lin’s stated investment in freedom, one can imagine how thoroughly this revelation shook him. He has been denied the freedom to choose his own fate. The remainder of the novel, to a great extent, tells the story of how one adjusts to such disillusionment.