Shantaram Summary and Analysis of Chapters 37-39


Lin reveals that Nazeer saved him following the mortar wound. He comes to consciousness in a medical tent, tended by Mahmoud and wrapped in bandages. Lin learns that the position they attacked was not a Russian position, but rather a “friendly” one. After they had killed and injured most of Khader’s band, these Afghanis, led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, arranged for their departure to Pakistan. Lin learns that Massoud has obtained stinger missiles, a weapon that will soon turn the tide of the Afghanistan war decidedly against the Russians.

Lin and Nazeer, who was also wounded in the rush, recover from their injuries and depart for Bombay, where Lin hopes to take revenge on Madame Zhou. Back in the city, Lin dodges inquiries about Khader’s well-being while collecting some money and arranging to fix-up his passport. He runs into Didier and Kavita Singh at Leopold’s and tells Didier of Khader’s death. He then asks for his things, which Didier had been keeping for him, and announces a plan to attack Madame Zhou. Didier tells him that Madame Zhou has already been attacked – that her palace was burned down and her power lost. Lin decides to go after her anyway and Didier insists that he come too.

In Chapter Thirty-Eight, Lin fixes his passport at Abdul Ghani’s shop – where he tells Ghani of Khader’s death. The old man is visibly shaken. The passport work done, Didier and Lin proceed to Madame Zhou’s, where they find the palace in pitiful ruins. Lin navigates the dilapidated palace until he finds the incoherent and drooling figure of the madam. He pities rather than kills her and is about to leave when Rajan suddenly attacks him. Driven by madness, Rajan is surprisingly difficult to defeat and Lin is finally forced to stab him in the neck. Just then, another Rajan appears – his twin! Lin takes on the two insane brothers at once, stabbing them with his knife. A murderous rage grows within him but before he can finish the brothers off Didier appears with a pistol. He wounds one of the brothers and offers to kill them, but Lin refuses, preferring to forgive rather than avenge.

Back at Leopold’s, Lin runs into Vikram. Lin learns that Karla has a new boyfriend, Rajit, and receives the news with a composure that surprises even himself. He is no longer in love with her. A moment later, Mahmoud Melbaaf enters Leopold’s and tells Lin that the traitor in Khader’s group is none other than Abdul Ghani. Ghani has been killed and a struggle for power is underway.

Chapter Thirty-Nine opens with a description of Ghani’s treachery. The Sapna scheme had been cooked up by Khader and he placed Ghani in charge of the operation. Ghani used this opportunity to consolidate his own gang – the Sapna killers, led by a young killer named Jeetendra – and to kill some of his enemies. When a local inspector, Suresh Patil, suspected the Khader gang of the Sapna crimes, Ghani arranged for the death of one of their own, Madjid, in order to avoid suspicion. Eventually, drunk with newfound power, Ghani attempted to wrest the mafia from Khader. He informed on them to the Pakistani police, a plan that went wrong in Chapter Thirty-One. Khader learned of his betrayal and told Nazeer before dying.

After several weeks of fighting, Nazeer and Mahmoud have regained control of the Bombay underworld; they sit at the head of the council, which includes the best friends (and now prominent council members) Sanjay Kumar and Salman Mustaan. They offer Lin a position as the new passport man and Lin accepts. He decides to offer jobs to Johnny Cigar and Kishore as runners and the council members agree. When he approaches them, however, Johnny and Kishore reject his offer of work and express concern that he is slipping deeper into criminal activities. The council assigns two of their own to Lin’s passport office instead – Farid and Andrew Ferreira. Lin describes his life in the inner-circle of the new, young Bombay mafia, relishing its excitement but aware of his secondary status in the group.

While dining with the Mafioso one day, Lisa Carter walks in and Lin begins to chat with her. Lisa expresses some concern about the direction of Lin’s life. They retire together to her room and Lisa asks him to life with her in Tardeo. Lisa tells Lin that she has long had a crush on him and Lin wonders if he loves her. They kiss and Lin is filled with an ambiguous despair – residue from his love of Karla. He leaves Lisa’s apartment and sees a street criminal, Mukul, dealing heroin. Drawn to the drug, Lin almost succumbs when he feels an arm on his shoulder.

It’s Abdullah. Lin thinks that he is dreaming until Abdullah explains that it really is him – he was horribly wounded but has fully recovered. He tells Lin that he has been waging a secret fight against men with connections to the new government in Iran. After killing several of these Iranian contacts, Abdul Ghani helped frame Abdullah as Sapna and arranged for the police hit. That night, Khader’s men started the riot and Farid carried his body away; Abdullah recovered in secrecy. Abdullah tells Lin that only three of their enemies still live – two Iranian spies and one of Ghani’s Sapna killers. Abdullah alludes to a plan to finish these off and leads Lin back to the restaurant where the council has gathered.


These chapters return to some of the key thematic concerns of the novel – but this time “showing” rather than “telling.” Faced with the pathetic spectacle of Madame Zhou, he puts into practice the realization that we are free either to hate or forgive those who torment us. He chooses to forgive. Indeed, he extends his empathy even to the Rajan twins, figuring that they were merely fighting for the woman they love, and that he would do the same if he were in their shoes. Although he has often talked about such empathy, this is the first time in this long novel that he has backed up this talk with action.

Of course, if Madame Zhou were still the powerful and mysterious figure behind the one-way mirror rather than a feeble, drooling drunk, Lin might have a tougher time being philosophical about the situation. It’s easy to forgive our transgressors when they appear weak, not when they show their strength. (The same principle holds in the example of Big Rahul in Chapter Twenty-One: Lin forgives him, or at least pities him, when he sees the fearful coward behind the bluster and bullying.) Lin – or Roberts – does not address this pattern, but it is worth wondering as a reader whether Lin demonstrates a consistent ethics or merely a convenient ethics.

Another thematic concern that reenters the picture is that of fatherhood, especially as represented by Khader. As he makes the rounds in Bombay, Lin sees how important Khader was to all who knew him: his mafia contacts in Bombay greet him not with “how are you?” but with “how is Khaderbhai?” And when he learns of Khader’s death, Didier can’t believe his ears. Khader is a constant, a pillar – his demise is inconceivable. In general, Lin sees how generalized Khader’s father role was. He played the perfect, commanding patriarch to countless people, not just to Lin.

But notice that as soon as Khader dies he assumes feet of clay. He is shown to have been flawed – not in a petty but in a grand way – by pride. Ahmed Zadah, when he returns mortally wounded with Nazeer, says that Khader’s death came because the mafia boss was too proud to use donkeys in the mountains: he had to have impressive (and, in the mountains, useless) horses instead (744). Similarly, those in the mafia complain that Khader poured millions of dollars into the war in Afghanistan. Indeed, Salman even shows some understanding for the traitor, Ghani: “I think Ghani did try to warn Khaderbhai what was in his heart” (823). Khader, though perceived as perfect in life, has become fallible in death.

Speaking of Ghani, that character stands out for his enigmatic complexity. There is a stark contrast between his personal manner and the crimes attributed to him – is this affable, soft-spoken, Oxford-accented old man really the black-hearted traitor who ordered the murder of Madjid and tried to bring down Khader? Are his blubbering tears when he learns of Khader’s death genuine? Or are they crocodile tears? These questions are raised but never really resolved. In the end, Ghani seems to have seen Khader as clearly as anyone. His constant talk about “the hero’s curse” contains an honest diagnosis of Khader – an incredible man brought down by his own grand sense of pride.

“The hero’s curse,” by the way, resonates clearly with the ancient dramatic convention of the heroic flaw. Greek tragedy presents massively powerful leaders who succumb to a fatal weakness embedded in their character. This is another example of Roberts’ debt to ancient epic and tragic conventions. Also, it puts in perspective the importance of Khader to Shantaram. As we’ll see, this book doesn’t really resolve – it’s ending doesn’t have the feeling of arrival one might expect in a novel. However, when considered from Khader’s point-of-view, with Khader as the central figure, the novel takes on a more typical structure: exposition (Khader’s introduction to events) – development (the extent of his influence grows, or, rather, is revealed) – crisis (the war in Afghanistan and his death) – resolution (the ensuing events in Part Five, which might be subtitled, “Life without Khader”). To a certain degree, Shantaram can be analyzed as a novel about Khader.

And indeed, this is the source of Lin’s anxiety in Part Four. He finds out that his life has been authored by Khader. He is not in command of his own tale – he is not free. In Part Five, as Khader is re-imagined as a flawed rather than a perfect man, this feeling of fatalistic bondage recedes to the background. Khader must be reconceived of as a mere mortal – how else can the people of Bombay get over him? How else can he have died?