Shantaram Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12


Roberts opens Part Two of Shantaram with a flashback description of Lin’s escape from prison. He and another man, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence, decide to take advantage of prison renovations in order to escape. They cut their way into the renovation site, thinking to break through the roof and make an escape in broad daylight. When they find their way barred by a thick wooden wall, the fellow prisoner despairs, but Lin decides to use an electric saw set aside for construction in order to rip through the wall. He daringly darts into the open in order to get the saw and they proceed to cut through – the guards, as Lin thought they would, ignore the saw noise, having grown used to it in the course of construction. They emerge into the day light, wait for cars to clear from the front of the prison, and then use an extension cord to climb down off the roof.

The narrative returns to Bombay, where Lin briefly recounts life as a very poor person in the slums. He discusses the routine roundups of homeless people by the police – which one could avoid, of course, with the help of a bribe. Despite the hardships he faces, Lin decides to remain in the slums, serving as a doctor, after he has saved enough money by working in the drug trade to return to the city center. Eventually, this dedication attracts the notice of some very important men. Abdullah, the man who intervened in the attack on Karla and Lin at the Standing Babas den, approaches Lin one day when he is standing by the sea and leads him to a luxury car. Within, Lin meets Abdel Khader Khan (known affectionately as “Khaderbhai,” or “elder brother Khader”), the mafia boss about whom Didier had spoken so respectfully. Also in the car is Khader’s burly driver, Nazeer.

Khader tells Lin that he owns the land on which the slum stands, and that he is very happy with Lin’s work as a medic there. They then drive together to a major mosque, the Haji Ali Mosque, where they stop at a nearby restaurant. Khader promises to help the restaurant owner, who is being threatened with eviction, and then holds a conversation with a police officer whom Khader publicly gives a massive bribe; Lin later learns that the officer had been treated with some contempt, and that the size and source of the bribe would increase his prestige.

Afterwards, Khader orders that they go to a room nearby where local celebrities and powerful men have gathered to smoke chillum and listen to a performance by a famous group of gazal singers, the Blind Singers of Nagpur. While listening to the concert, Khader asks Lin about his religious beliefs, drawing him into the first of many philosophical discussions the two will share. Khader notes that Lin and Abdullah are brothers in their attitude toward the world, their skepticism of God. Lin and Abdullah fall into conversation about their brotherliness; Abdullah decides that he likes Lin and that he will behave as a brother toward him. The chapter closes with Lin convinced that he has discovered a new family, with Abdullah as his brother and Khader as his father.

Chapter Ten begins with an account of Abdullah’s brotherly attempt to assist Lin in his work as medic. He introduces Lin to the local physician, Doctor Hamid, saying that with Khader’s blessing Lin will have the power to refer serious cases to Hamid, and through him to the clinic at St. George Hospital. From Hamid’s office, Abdullah takes Lin to the epicenter of the Bombay black market for medicine, the leper’s camp. Here Lin secures access to antibiotics and other necessary medications after meeting with the leader of the lepers, Ranjit, known respectfully as Ranjitbhai. Lin, Abdullah and Ranjit share tea amongst a gathering of lepers in various stages of the disease. Lin learns briefly of their methods for obtaining medication through theft. They arrange for Sanjil, a young leprous boy, to deliver the supplies to Lin’s clinic. As Lin and Abdullah part, Abdullah gives Lin a big hug, which Lin calls a “bear hug.” Abdullah finds this phrase very funny – and memorable, as we’ll see. The chapter ends as Lin returns to his slum home, where Prabaker approaches him worriedly. He warns Lin that Abdullah is “a killing man” and encourages Lin to break off all ties with him. Lin reassures Prabaker that he is in no danger that he can’t handle.

Chapter Eleven brings us back to life in the slums. Lin describes the manner in which Prabaker and Johnny Cigar help repair damaged huts and describes the generosity and wisdom of Qasim Ali Hussein. This wisdom shortly meets with a series of challenges. First, two youths, Faroukh and Raghuram, brawl after a religious disagreement; Faroukh, a Hindu, alleges that Raghuram insulted the Prophet Mohammed, and Raghuram that Faroukh insulted Lord Ram. Qasim does not tolerate such religious fighting for one moment. He orders that the youths be tied together at the ankle and forced to clean the latrines together.

Soon after this Solomon-like display, Qasim meets another challenge. Johnny arrives with news that a slum dweller, Joseph, is completely drunk and has been beating his wife all morning. Just as Qasim orders Johnny to intervene, Joseph’s wife, Maria, spills out of their hut, bloody and naked. Joseph comes after her with a raised stick, but Prabaker disarms him and pushes him to the ground. Women come with a yellow sari and carry Maria to safety. Before the slum-dwellers can lynch Joseph, Qasim orders that everyone stand back. He asks for two bottles of the liquor that Joseph had been drinking and forces Joseph to finish them. Joseph passes out several times while attempting to do so. He begs for water, but Qasim does not allow it. Finally, when he has finished the second bottle, Qasim orders that Joseph be beaten with the stick. The men cane and humiliate Joseph, telling him that he has murdered his wife. Finally, Joseph breaks down, grief-stricken at Maria’s fate, and Qasim allows him to have water. He tells Joseph that Maria is not dead, but charges Joseph to fast and work hard; after two months, Maria will decide whether or not she wants to divorce Joseph. These displays of wisdom impress Lin deeply.

Abdullah has not forgotten Lin’s “bear hug”: at the beginning of Chapter Twelve, he sends Kano, an actual bear who is accompanied by two bear-handlers, into the hutments to give Lin a hug. The slum-dwellers find this hilarious and wait to witness the bear hug. Lin is rather more apprehensive, but he finally embraces Kano, to everyone’s delight. We hear of two more patients visiting at Lin’s hut – a young thief named Naresh who suffered a cut in an escape from police, and an old woman whom Lin must examine using a go-between because of the traditional modesty of Indian women – before a familiar figure shows up at Lin’s hut: Karla. She is her usual quip-ready self, though she seems genuinely impressed by Lin’s commitment to helping the people of the slum. They share a pot of chai served by Lin’s neighbor’s son, Satish, and catch up. Karla offers to take Lin to lunch, but instead Lin invites her to a special gathering at the “Village in the Sky.”

This Village in the Sky is a temporary settlement on the roof of a major construction project. The slum itself, in fact, was established in order to house the workers needed to build two skyscrapers, the World Trade Centre: an illegal, squatter’s slum soon arose alongside the legal, worker’s slum, and though the illegal slum is condemned it is largely tolerated. Prabaker, Karla and Lin join a crowd heading to the feast at the Village in the Sky. They board an elevator and shoot up to the thirty-fifth floor, where they enjoy a beautiful view of Bombay as they eat, drink and chat. While on the roof, they notice a large graffitied word, “SAPNA,” and Johnny Cigar notes that a man named Sapna has declared war against the rich of Bombay. He has been breaking into wealthy people’s homes and killing them in an attempt to galvanize the poor in revolt. At the news that Sapna has been murdering people, Karla grows deathly pale.

Despite this disturbing graffiti, Karla and Lin settle into the party. Karla is briefly pulled into the women’s section of the party, where she discusses Lin with the Indian women. Soon, Lin and Karla find themselves alone. Karla hesitantly brings up a problem that she has, saying that she could use Lin’s help. Lin is somewhat perturbed to learn that Karla’s visit was not spontaneous, but designed to enlist his help; nonetheless, he listens to Karla’s proposal. It seems that a friend of Karla’s, a girl named Lisa, has been working at a brothel run by a woman named Madame Zhou, and Karla wants to get Lisa out of her employ. Karla says that Lisa owes Madame Zhou a great deal of money and is addicted to heroin, and adds that Madame Zhou is a twisted woman who takes pleasure in breaking down attractive, bright women like Lisa and will not let Lisa go easily. However, Karla does have a plan to free Karla: if Lin were to disguise himself as an official from the American Embassy, he could allude to trouble unless Madame Zhou releases Karla, who is an American citizen. Though he sees many problems with this arrangement, Lin agrees to masquerade as the official in order to help Karla.

Suddenly, a bustle interrupts this conversation. Lin discovers that the Bombay Municipal Corporation is bulldozing a portion of the illegal slum. They have a perfect view of the bulldozers from the top of the skyscrapers, and they watch as about sixty shelters are obliterated. Karla and Lin watch this stoically. When they resume their conversation, Lin tells Karla that he is in love with her – a declaration that Karla finds irritating. She is happy to like Lin, but love is another animal altogether.


Part Two of Shantaram seems to begin by filling us in on the past. We began the novel in media res, now we're going back to pick up on the full arc of the story -- or so it seems. After recounting the prison break, Lin retreats from telling us of his past. Indeed, it remains perhaps the most gaping mystery at the center of the book -- What happened in Australia? Why did Lin lose his family? Why did he turn to heroin, and from heroin to crime? We get a sort of teaser here, but it reveals little about Lin's actual life. Indeed, its simply another adventure with philosophical implications. The real Lin (and even his real name) remains shrouded.

When Lin makes his escape from prison, does he escape into freedom or into slavery? From that moment on, he has given up everything he ever loved, everything he ever fought for, everything he ever was. He lives the next years of his life in constant fear. “What is freedom?” is a difficult question, perhaps impossible to resolve, but it is certainly haunting, and Lin finds again and again that the answer is not so straightforward as one might think. Just as his reflections on the master-slave dialectic illustrate a compelling paradox – the slave is revealed to be paradoxically freer than the master in some ways – so too his escape from prison is hardly a clear-cut rush into freedom. It is more accurately an escape into fear – and an escape from the past.

However, since arriving in Bombay, Lin appears to have made some progress in surrendering to the flow of life. One motif that illustrates this tendency clearly is the so-called “amiable abduction” (185). Lin describes this phenomenon most clearly in discussing his car ride with Khader and Abdullah in Chapter Nine, though it occurs repeatedly: someone, be it Prabaker, Abdullah, or someone else, will urgently take Lin to some strange new sight without telling him their destination. Amiable abduction simultaneously illustrates a tendency within Indian culture – to relish surprises, to surrender to the will of one’s friends – and a larger philosophical approach to life itself. Indeed, it can be taken as a metaphor for Lin’s understanding of fate. For the most part, life is an amiable abductor, bringing us to new and important contact points, leading us into and out of love, showing us its path only in hindsight. Lin is regularly amazed by the workings of fate, and seems happiest when he admits its inexorable course and simply surrenders – not trying to over-think things, just trusting his instincts.

In a loose way, Indian society seems to run on a similar principle of flow and surrender. Though there are some attempts to impose a top-down political order on Bombay (illustrated, for instance, by the destruction of a portion of the illegal slum at the end of Chapter Twelve), for the most part life seems “driven from beneath,” so to speak. The local police run on bribes – the “honest bribe,” as Didier says, is a peculiarly Indian custom – and the local mafia provides many of the services that the government cannot, including medical care. Even justice has an ad hoc quality – as seen in the organized mobs that carry away the taxi driver, for instance. At its best, when represented by Qasim Ali Hussein, Bombay justice is fair, stern and poetic. Hussein attempts to “save” rather than punish those who stray from decent actions.

At any rate, his wisdom operates outside of legality, a part of but apart from the political world of Bombay. In general, Shantaram depicts the honest and good among society as those who live apart from its official manifestations. Police tend to be slimy and duplicitous and uniformed guards to be cowardly and ruthless whereas the Mafioso are almost all honest and forthright and loving – at least so far as we know for now. No wonder Lin and his misfit friends feel so at home in Bombay; it offers a moral structure divorced from the political structure. Political might does not make “right,” it simply makes “might” – and everyone, including those within the police and government, seem to accept this arrangement. (One might recall, for a rare moment of contrast, the young Canadians at the beginning of the book: perhaps their fear of Bombay is not unjustified; rather, their law-abiding personalities seem ill suited to a world of Lins and Karlas and Didiers.)