"I worked at the Palace, but it was just a job, and all I ever made out of it was money. She's the one who made it dirty. She's the one who made it a…a sick thing. Karla's the one who'll do anything to get what she wants. Damn right, a business head, and a heart to match." (2.16.74)
Lisa is the first character in Shantaram to hint at the fact that Karla might not be all that trustworthy. She distinguishes between just working as a prostitute and somehow making it into a sick thing. It seems that Karla, Lisa's friend, used her or betrayed her in a sick game with Madame Zhou's customers.
Madame Zhou, Karla, Khaderbhai's council, Sapna—I felt myself to be at the mercy of personalities that were stronger, or at least more mysterious than my own. I felt the irresistible draw and drift of a tide that was carrying me to someone else's destination, someone else's destiny. (2.16.127)
Lin's list of outlaw acquaintances is growing the longer he is in Bombay, and even though he's drawn to figures like Karla and Khaderbhai, he also realizes that he is giving up part of himself as he allies himself with them. Their strong personalities force him to betray himself, and use him for their own purposes.
"I trust you, Lin. It won't take long—the meeting. And I'll pay you. I'm not asking you to help me for nothing. I'll pay you five hundred dollars, if you'll just be there with me. Will you do it?" I heard a warning, deep within—we usually do, when something worse than we can imagine is stalking us, and set to pounce. (3.19.75-76)
Ulla's offer sounds pretty desperate, and she uses some pretty fancy manipulation to get him to do what she wants. "I trust you," she says to him, which puts the pressure on him to trust her. Lin's intuition is trying to sound the alarm, but even though he knows it might be a trap he gives in to Ulla's request.
Ulla wasn't there, where she'd said she would be. Did she set me up? I wondered, my heart thumping with dread. (3.19.114)
Oh, snap. Just as he suspected in the quote above, Lin is caught in a trap. Ulla might trust Lin to do what he says he will, but she obviously can't be trusted to be where she promises she will. Unfortunately, her betrayal will cost Lin dearly, as the police are closing in on him and there's no way out.
And one day they came to take our fingerprints, pressing the black, traitorous loops and whorls onto a page that promised to tell a truth, a vile truth, and nothing but that truth. (3.20.47)
Fingerprints don't lie—unless you have adermatoglyphia. And in Lin's case, because he's a wanted fugitive, his fingerprints have a terrible truth to tell. He calls the one-of-a-kind mark "traitorous" because his own body will betray him, giving away his true identity.
"Khaderbhai, he told me that he found out why you got picked up and put in jail. He said that someone powerful, someone with a lot of influence, had you put away, man." (3.21.166)
Lin always knew that he was set up, but he thought that he had been betrayed by Ulla. Now he has new information about the traitor, that it's someone powerful. No offense, Ulla, but that's not you. This sort of rumor, whispered info that leads Lin a little closer to his goal, is the best information he has to go on, which makes it that much harder to know whether he's on the right track or not.
"They are saying on the news, just now, that Indira Gandhi is dead. [...] They say it was her bodyguards—her Sikh bodyguards." (3.22.95)
Indira Gandhi, the powerful Indian Prime Minister, was assassinated by her bodyguards on October 31, 1984. This level of betrayal, when those she entrusts with her life turn on her, shows the vulnerability even of the most powerful people. By mentioning this historical fact, the author foreshadows the betrayal of Khaderbhai.
"Alors, he told me that the Bite of the Tiger—you—was betrayed by a woman." (3.22.115)
More whispers take Lin a little closer to his target. Didier's French-inflected English, with its "Alors," or "so," sounds gossipy, which makes it a little bit hard to take so seriously. However, he uses the prison nickname "Bite of the Tiger," which Lin earned by gnawing on a guy's face, so his source has some credibility. Narrowing down the traitor to being a woman might make you think that it's the beloved Karla, but hold your horses…
I was searching for Karla—for the Karla I knew and loved—but every moment with her began to give up its secret and its lie. (4.34.94)
Lin finds out that Karla was, all along, working for Khaderbhai. She'd met him on purpose and led him into the mob world on purpose—all part of a plan. He searches for her not literally, but in his memory. The fact that she wasn't open with him is a betrayal, and makes every shared moment suspect.
They'd lied to me and betrayed me, leaving jagged edges where all my trust had been, and I didn't like or respect or admire them anymore, but I still loved them. (4.34.142)
Khaderbhai's men had all befriended Lin under false pretenses, because they needed him to fulfill their Afghani mission. When he finds out, it rips his heart out. The "jagged edges" reveal the violence of the betrayal. It's not a clean cut, like a surgery, but a spontaneous, accidental injury.
Ulla was speaking with Karla in a mixture of German and English that, by accident or intent, obscured the most interesting parts of her conversation. (1.2.63)
Lin doesn't speak German, and he takes it personally when Ulla (German) and Karla (Swiss) speak in their native language. Whether it's an "accident" or intentional, the mix of languages will become a part of his everyday life living among the exiles in Bombay.
"And there are two hundred dialects and languages spoken in the city every day. Two hundred, for God's sake! It's like being in the centre of the world." (1.2.88)
Can this be true? Well, we checked, and it would seem to be true. So the statement that living in a Tower of Babel like Bombay would be like living in the center of the world makes lots of sense. How could you forget you live in a global community when you can't understand the grand majority of what's being said around you?
"What kind of politics?"
"Oh, regional, language-based, ethnic, us-against-them," he replied, sneering cynically as he ticked each characteristic off on the fingers of his left hand. (1.2.156-157)
Politics can be an idealistic field that allows people to find mutually beneficial solutions to problems, or it can be used as a tool to create division. One of the most natural ways to divide groups up is by what language they speak. As Didier points out, it's a widely-used tactic by Indian political parties.
"What number that bus, Linbaba? Quickly, tell it."
"Just a second." I hesitated, peering out of the half-open window of the taxi and trying to read the curlicue numbers on the front of a red, double-decker bus that had stopped opposite us momentarily. "It's, ah, it's a one-zero-four, isn't it?"
"Very, very fine! You have learn your Hindi numbers so nicely." (1.3.4-6)
It might be hard to learn German, French, or Spanish, not to mention something like Latin. But just try picking up Hindi, where even the letters and numbers are different. No faking your way by pronouncing words you don't know the meaning of; here you have to learn a whole new alphabet.
"Tourists are not allowed here, or to any of the other people-markets, but I have told him that you are not one of those tourist fellows. I have told him that you have learned the Marathi language. He does not believe me. That is our problem only. He doesn't believe any foreigner will speak Marathi. You must for that reason speak it a little Marathi for him. You will see. He will allow us inside." (1.3.106)
Okay, let's get this straight. Lin is a tourist. Prabaker is his guide. They're going on a tour of the "dark side" of Bombay, including to the slave market. So why isn't Lin considered a tourist? Well, because he's gone the extra mile and learned not only Hindi, but also the super-local language of Marathi. It's like knowing a secret password.
"I love the English language, because so much of it is French."
"Touché," I grinned, "as we say in English." (1.4.35-36)
Think Didier's off his rocker? Well, au contraire and c'est la vie; the old Frenchman is right. English doesn't only borrow French phrases like "Touché." About one third of English words come from the language.
"I really do love you, you know, Didier," Lettie stuttered, through her bubbling laughter. "Even if you are a despicable toad of a man."
"No, you love him because he is a despicable toe of a man," Ulla declared.
"That's toad, love, not toe,' Lettie corrected patiently, still laughing. [...]
"I'm not so good with the English jokes, you know that, Lettie," Ulla persisted. (1.4.49)
Get a group of foreigners together and the fun language mistakes will come rolling in. In this case it's Ulla, mistaking toad for toe. It makes us think that a lot of language is really arbitrary—why shouldn't he be a toe? They're stinky, a trait that toads don't share, last time we checked.
"And I suppose that the real breakthrough came with the language. When I started to dream in Hindi, I knew that I was at home here. Everything has fallen into place since then." (1.4.147)
Karla's "breakthrough" is about feeling like she fits in in Bombay. She's a foreigner, and looks and acts differently than native women in her adopted city. But by learning Hindi, one of the city's native languages, she unlocks the door into society and finally feels at home.
"No, say it also, Lin! Say the words—I will never let it go this shirts. Quickly!"
"Oh, for God's sake. All right—I will never let it go this shirts. Are you satisfied?" (1.5.22-23)
Poor Prabaker. It's hard to imagine that Lin doesn't sound just as silly when he's trying to speak Hindi or Marathi, but since he's the narrator he doesn't let us in on that fact. Instead, he just paints Prabaker's English as funny, mocking and copying his funky plurals and extra it's.
No discovery pleased me more, on that first excursion from the city, than the full translation of the famous Indian head-wiggle. (1.5.69)
It was the work of a second, the eye contact between us. It was just long enough for me to decide to trust him—the little man with the big smile. I didn't know it then, but it was one of the best decisions of my life. (1.1.41)
We've got love at first sight, so why not BFFs at first sight? When Lin decides to trust Prabaker, basing his decision solely on his amazing smile, he makes a dear buddy. Even though Prabaker's life is cut short too early, his influence on Lin's life continues long past his death.
"Friends… well, sometimes, I'm not really sure what friendship is. We've known each other for years. We used to live together once—did he tell you?" (1.2.214)
Leave it to Karla to complicate something as simple and pure as friendship. All of her relationships have the status "It's complicated," even her friendship with Didier. But she does point out some things friends do—know each other for a long time, be roommates, and question whether that's enough to maintain a true friendship.
"Didier?" I smiled, genuinely surprised. "I thought that they hated each other—well, not hate exactly. I thought they couldn't stand each other."
"Oh, they annoy one another, sure. But there's a real friendship there. If anything bad happened to one of them, the other would be devastated." (1.2.262-263)
Um, we're not really sure what the difference is between hating someone and not standing them, but we'll give Lin a pass on that. What's really weird is that two people that seem to hate each other, or at least annoy each other, actually care very deeply about each other. It's like Roger Sterling and Don Draper, or Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson.
I sipped my coffee in silence, knowing that he was right—Prabaker's dark tour had been a kind of test—but not willing to give Didier the trophy of conceding the point. (1.4.19)
Prabaker's dark tour was when he flipped his role of guide, taking Lin to all the worst, ugliest, saddest parts of the city, rather than the fun, sunshiny stuff that most tourists want to see. It's like he was showing Lin himself, his true origins, to see how he would react and whether they could be friends.
"If it was a test," I did at last concede, "he must've given me a pass. He invited me to go with him to visit his family, in his village in the north of the state." (1.4.21)
So the dark tour test, which Lin doesn't really like to admit is a test, was successful. Now, Lin will go to a whole other level of tourism, where there's only running water for an hour a day and no electricity. By testing his new friend's reaction to poverty, Prabaker determines whether or not he can bring his pal home to meet the 'rents.
They nailed their stakes into the earth of my life, those farmers. They knew the place in me where the river stopped, and they marked it with a new name. Shantaram Kishan Kharre. (1.6.70)
What a lovely metaphor. The stakes Lin refers to are the ones that the farmers use to place their bets on how far the river will rise during the flood season. So what's the river in him that they're measuring? Maybe Lin's criminal past, which he leaves behind as he takes on Prabaker's family names: Kishan Kharre, and Shantaram, meaning "man of peace." His new friendship with the farmers is what gives him peace.
I'd grown to like Prabaker. I'd learned to admire his unshakeable optimism. I'd come to depend on the comforting warmth his great smile provided. And I'd enjoyed his company, day and night, through the months in the city and the village. But in that minute, on my second night in the slum, as I watched him laughing with Jeetendra, Johnny Cigar, and his other friends, I began to love him. (1.8.135)
What is a friend, really? Not to go all philosophical on you, but here are some good responses: someone you admire, someone you depend on for comfort, and someone who hangs out with you, keeping you company. But, admit it, at the bottom of all true friendship is love, too.
"You are making a friendship with our Abdullah, Mr. Lin?" Khaderbhai said as we climbed back into the car. "This is a good thing. You should be close friends. You look like brothers." (2.9.150)
Abdullah and Lin are a couple of tough guys who hit it off, and Khaderbhai, the grand engineer of all of Lin's relationships, decides that they should be close friends. His comment that they look like brothers seems like a joke. They look nothing alike, but perhaps he's referring to that brotherhood (or sisterhood) that we find in close friendships.
"You know that fighting is no way to settle your differences. And you both know that fighting between friends and neighbours is the worst fighting of all." (2.11.12)
If your parents and teachers haven't drilled it into your head, maybe the slum director will convince you that fighting is no good. In the slum, everyone must maintain their friendships with their neighbors because it's such a fragile system that could easily be torn apart by infighting.
Like all the fugitive kind, the more successful I was, the longer and further I ran, the less I kept of myself.
But there were people, a few who could reach me, a few new friends for the new self I was learning to become. (2.16.84)
Lin has left behind his past life in Australia, including his daughter, parents, and friends. He's starting to realize that a lot of our identity is wrapped up in our friendships; birds of a feather and all that. So his new group of friends go with his new self. The misfits, exiles, and criminals he surrounds himself determine his new identity.
"British built this jail, in the time of Raj," he hissed at me, showing teeth. "They did chain Indian men here, whip them here, hang them here, until dead. Now we run the jail, and you are a British prisoner." (3.20.49)
The Indian prison guards are going to take revenge for all of British colonial rule on poor Lin's back. This collective grudge, of all Indians against all British or English-speakers, comes from the mistreatment that the guard describes. But is it really fair to take revenge after the fact, on a new generation?
"No matter what they do," he whispered, "for the sake of your life, don't do anything to them in return. This is not a living place, Lin. We are all dead men here. You can't do anything!" (3.20.69)
Lin's prison buddy is trying to save his hide, by telling him never to defend himself or take revenge for the cruelty he receives. It's kind of interesting the way he winds down his advice though, with the idea that they're all dead men. It's as though the right to take revenge were one of the things that make us alive.
The frustration, dread, worry, and pain finally peaked when Big Rahul, the overseer who'd found in me a focus for the hatred and wretchedness he'd suffered in his twelve years at the prison, hit me one time too often. (3.21.42)
It's a never-ending chain of revenge. Big Rahul is a prisoner himself, but after twelve years has been promoted to overseer. He was mistreated during all that time, and so now he turns his rage on the prisoners under him. He can't take revenge on the guards or the system, so he takes it out on Lin, who then wants to get revenge… see where we're going?
Then one day, as I lay on my side, conserving energy and watching the birds peck for crumbs in the courtyard next to our dormitory, I was attacked by a powerful man who jumped on me and seized my throat in both of his hands.
"Mukul! Mukul, my young brother!" he growled at me in Hindi. "Mukul! The young brother you bit on his face! My brother!" (3.21.86-87)
Lin's known for his maniac actions in the prison, biting one guy's face and punching himself when he's cornered. So it's no surprise that he might offend some people. And if you've got siblings, you know that, while you might be allowed to pick on them, no one else can. He's gotten himself into the sights of a brother who wants revenge, and that's a scary place to be.
"You got two choices—get [...] out of town, or get some firepower on your side, like the guys at the OK Corral, you know?" (3.21.168)
Vikram is obsessed with western movies and cowboy culture, so his way of seeing the world is tinged with shootouts and gunfights. His advice to Lin, when he finally gets out of jail, is to find out who put him there and get violent, bloody revenge, like the cowboys in his favorite movies.
But no matter how fit I became, I knew that my mind wouldn't heal, couldn't heal, until I found out who'd arranged with the police to have me picked up and sent to Arthur Road Prison. (3.22.58)
Revenge can be sweet, but just like a delicious ice cream sandwich, if you're on a diet it can drive you crazy. Since Lin doesn't know who he's mad at, his desire for revenge can't be satisfied. It's as bad as being trapped in a donut shop with no money, or watching the last cupcakes in the vending machine get caught on a coil on its way down.
Someone had arranged with senior cops to have me arrested, without charge, and imprisoned at Arthur Road. The same person had arranged to have me beaten—severely and often—while I was in the prison. It was a punishment or an act of revenge. (3.22.59)
Lin's not really sure why he got put into jail, but for some reason he assumes that the person responsible was doing it to pay him back for something. It's kind of a strange assumption, because as far as we know he really hasn't done anything too terrible to anyone. Maybe this default revenge motive shows us something about Lin's own character.
I wasn't late, and he couldn't have been waiting more than fifteen or twenty minutes, but still there were ten cigarette butts on the ground beside the open door of the cab. Each one of them, I knew, was an enemy crushed under his heel, a violent wish, a brutal fantasy of the suffering he would one day inflict on those he hated. (3.22.172)
Most of the guys who work with Khaderbhai are angry men with violent pasts. Many of them have lost their families in gruesome acts of war. Every crime they commit is a stand-in for the revenge they wish they could take on those responsible.
"Someone told me once that if you make your heart into a weapon, you always end up using it on yourself." (3.22.177)
Deep. Many of Shantaram's characters are motivated by anger and revenge, but Lin knows that all that resentment they carry won't really change anything. Even if they were to kill all of their enemies, it wouldn't bring back the dead. So the drive for revenge really only ends up hurting the one who carries it around inside.
"I do want revenge. You're right. I wish I didn't. I wish I was better than that. But I only want it on one person—the one who set me up—not the whole nation that she comes from." (3.22.201)
Here's that point again about collective versus individual revenge. Just like the Indian prison guard who wants to take revenge on the British via Lin, Khaled would like to kill all Israelis for what their army did to his Palestinian community. It's a difficult philosophical position.
"Ah, it is not only brown sugar [heroin] and hashish that comes from Afghanistan into India," he confided, lowering his voice and speaking from the corner of his mouth once more. "There are guns, heavy weapons, explosives. [...] If you control one trade, the drugs, you can influence the other, the guns." (1.2.170)
Heroin might be Lin's drug of choice, but on a macroeconomic level it represents much more than a dangerous way to get high. The same routes that drug runners use to carry the heroin are used to import all kinds of weapons illegally, so drugs become a gateway to arms trade.
He poured the last of the one-litre bottle into his glass and topped it up with the last of the soda. He'd been drinking steadily for more than an hour. His eyes were as veined and bloodshot as the back of a boxer's fist, but the gaze that stared from them was unwavering, and his hands were precise in their movements. (1.2.182)
What can you expect from a guy who basically runs his business from Leopold's bar? Didier is the novel's resident alcoholic, but this is one of the few moments where Lin really takes a moment to notice the effect the drug has on his friend. The physical appearance of his eyes show that his body is being worn down, but the "unwavering" gaze show that he's used to being drunk.
While I'd committed the armed robberies, I was on drugs, addicted to heroin. An opiate fog had settled over everything that I thought and did and even remembered about that time. (1.5.286)
Lin is a criminal, and he's committed awful crimes in his past. However, he seems to qualify that fact with the other fact of his addiction. It's like heroin made him into someone else, so that he didn't really know what he was doing or wasn't himself when he was doing it. What's especially creepy is that, even though he's off heroin now, it still affects his memories.
The Babas were also comprehensively, celestially, and magnificently stoned. They smoked nothing but Kashmiri—the best hashish in the world—grown and produced at the foothills of the Himalayas in Kashmir. And they smoked it all day, and all night, all their lives. (1.8.8)
The Standing Babas are a religious cult that Karla, Prabaker, and Lin visit. This sort of religious tourism is pretty popular around the world, especially when the rituals in question involve consuming some kind of drug. In this case, the devotees smoke hash all day, and their visitors don't mind joining in.
The ride was eerily similar to a hundred stoned drives with friends in Australia and New Zealand when we'd smoked hash or grass, put loud music on the dashboard player, and cruised together in a car. Within my own culture, however, it was mainly the young who smoked and cruised with the music on max. There, I was in the company of a very powerful and influential senior man who was much older than Abdullah, the driver, and me. (2.9.108)
Here's one of the big differences between the society Lin runs with in India and his home in Australia. Khaderbhai is super-refined and elegant, with a big, fancy house and a chauffeur. This doesn't jive at all with Lin's image of a teenaged pothead.
"You know, she saved me from that place—and you did, too—and she's helping me to get clean…to dry out…gotta dry out, Lin…Gilbert…" (2.16.80)
As you can see by the ellipses, Lisa's attempt to "get clean" with Karla's help isn't going so well. She's stoned out of her mind as she says this, mixing up Lin's alias, Gilbert, with the name everyone in Bombay calls him. However, even from within her high she knows that she needs to make a change.
I smoked in those days because, like everyone else in the world who smokes, I wanted to die at least as much as I wanted to live. (3.18.2)
Your health teacher could print some bumper stickers with this doozy and clear the ashtrays for miles. Now that pretty much everybody knows that smoking will kill you, it's only logical that anyone who smokes must not care too much about dying. It's either that, or they're in denial.
The couple was awake and sullen and angry with us, despite the girl's earlier plea for help, because we'd disturbed the pleasure of their stone. (3.19.60)
Lin's past as a heroin addict comes in handy when he has to revive an overdosed tourist. But there's no thanks in that dirty job. Even though, on some level, the couple must be glad they survived, they're more worried about the interruption of their drug vacation than about showing their gratitude.
Heroin is a sensory deprivation tank for the soul. Floating on the Dead Sea of the drug stone, there's no sense of pain, no regret or shame, no feelings of guilt or grief, no depression, and no desire. (4.30.1)
Lin goes back to heroin when he leaves Karla and, if the term "sensory deprivation tank for the soul" is any indication, it was to escape from his powerful emotions and feelings of loss. The Dead Sea is so salty that you can float in its waters, and when he's high Lin doesn't have to make any effort whatsoever, just bobbing along.
Two full days and nights into the torment, I knew I wasn't going to make it. Most of the vomiting and the diarrhea had passed, but the pain and anxieties were worse, much worse, every minute. Beneath the screaming in my blood there was a calm, insistent voice: You can stop this…you can fix this…you can stop this…take the money…get a fix…you can stop this pain… (4.30.194)
Um, gross. Sorry, but what goes up must come down, and getting high's no different. Coming off of heroin is pretty painful, as you can see in Lin's description or in the most terrifying scenes of Trainspotting.
"It's good to know what's wrong with the world," Karla said, after a while. "But it's just as important to know that sometimes, no matter how wrong it is, you can't change it. A lot of the bad stuff in the world wasn't really that bad until someone tried to change it." (1.4.161)
Karla's a thinker, and she is more realistic than our idealistic Lin. She knows that sometimes acting on pure principle with no regard to the results of our actions can do more harm than good. Sometimes trying to change something just for the sake of trying can really cause trouble.
Now, long years and many journeys after that first ride on a crowded rural train, I know that the scrambled fighting and courteous deference were both expressions of one philosophy: the doctrine of necessity. [...] What is necessary? That was the unspoken but implied and unavoidable question everywhere in India. When I understood that, a great many of the characteristically perplexing aspects of public life became comprehensible. (1.5.58)
Lin doesn't get why everyone tries to kill each other looking for a seat on the train, and then suddenly gets insanely polite as soon as the train starts rolling, until he realizes that it's all about necessity. Whereas the free-for-all determines your position and comfort for the next several hours, the politeness makes it bearable to be with all those other people for those hours. Actions change according to context, but the underlying principle doesn't.
"The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men," he said. "It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them." (2.9.238)
But what about the people who commit really bad or really good deeds? Khaderbhai seems to be slipping away from any sense of responsibility with his ethical philosophy. Lin is convinced—at first. There might be something to this idea, though, because such a belief is what allows Khaderbhai to see goodness in Lin, a man who has committed very bad deeds.
"Nobody will touch anything in your hut, Linbaba! What are you saying? You could put millions of rupees in there, and nobody would touch anything. Gold also you could put in there. The Bank of India is not as safe as this, Linbaba's hut." (2.10.34)
Johnny Cigar is offended by Lin's request that he watch his stuff while he's gone. Underneath his anger is the deep principle that guides slum life, which basically says, "we take care of each other." That principle is also one of necessity, like the one Lin learned on the train (see the quote above). The slumdwellers have got to be able to trust each other with their unlocked huts, or they'd slip into chaos lickety-split.
Abdullah and I were very much alike. [...] But I'd never killed anyone. In that, we were different men. (2.10.156)
Lin draws the line at murder, and while he loves to brag to us about knife fights and fist fights and all other sorts of brawls and bravery, every time he gets the chance to finish someone off he decides not to. It's his personal principle, but not one that he shares with any of Khaderbhai's guys.
"You can see, by what we have done with these two boys, that justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them." (2.11.93)
Qasim Ali, the head of the slum, is a wise man and applies his principles willy-nilly, making every problem a teachable moment. For him, justice is a real tool, not just an abstract law. He uses it to find proper punishments that not only make people really sorry they made a mistake, but also teaches them why it was wrong and not to do it again.
"We warned them to stop it. Our ladies were not walking safely. For that reason only we did fight them." (2.15.19)
Chivalry is all about principles. It's a whole system of rules and regulations for knights. In this case, the slum-dwellers are acting chivalrous, protecting "their" women from dangerous rivals. This, in turn, reveals a startling way of looking at women, as property.
"He says a man must love his bear, Lin," Prabaker translated for me. (2.15.113)
Say what? Yeah, we know this is a bizarre quote, but we kind of just have to agree with it, and also the guy says it more than once, so you know it's important. What's this got to do with principles? It's about knowing what's important. In the case of the blue bear handlers, they're willing to go through all sorts of pain and suffering out of love for their bear.
Negotiations with the watchmen and the other guards were spirited once we presented them with a request that they could grant without bending the rules to their breaking point. (2.15.114)
And here's an example of what principles aren't. Basically, if you'd be willing to break a rule, for a price, it's just that, a rule. It's not a principle. Principles are values that are so deep that you wouldn't break them for anything or, if you did, you'd feel really bad about it.
In a sense, the ghetto existed on a foundation of those anonymous, unthinkable deeds; insignificant and almost trivial in themselves, but collectively essential to the survival of the slum. (2.15.125)
The people who live in the slum work, as Lin (and we) said before, on the principle of necessity. They take care of each other because they realize that their own survival depends on the survival of their neighbors and the slum as a whole. The collective becomes as important, or more important, than the individual.
Like brown and black dunes, the acres of slums rolled away from the roadside, and met the horizon with dirty heat-haze mirages. The miserable shelters were patched together from rags, scraps of plastic and paper, reed mats, and bamboo sticks. They slumped together, attached one to another, and with narrow lanes winding between them. (1.1.21)
Lin's first visions of India are of extreme poverty: miles and miles of the poorest people living together in makeshift homes and communities. It's not an inviting welcome, to say the least, but remember that Lin is a fugitive. The same precariousness that the impoverished experience will allow him to blend in unnoticed.
It seemed impossible that a modern airport, full of prosperous and purposeful travellers, was only kilometres away from those crushed and cindered dreams. (1.1.21)
If there's anything we humans are good at, it's compartmentalizing. That's what makes it possible for the richest and poorest to butt right up against each other without (the rich) even noticing. The "modern airport" is secure, even pre-9/11, because it's too expensive and too well-guarded to let many poor people in for travel. That's why it "seems impossible" that there could be such poverty so nearby.
But they were alive, Prabaker said, those boys and girls. They were the lucky ones. For every child who passed through the people-market there were a hundred others, or more, who'd starved in unutterable agonies, and were dead. (1.3.144)
It's hard to say whether it's better to survive a slave market, but Lin believes that the survivors are "lucky." The point is, though, that the children who go through it—bought, sold, or dead—are there because they and their families didn't have the resources to save them.
"Prabaker took me to a kind of hospice, an old apartment building, near the St George Hospital. [...] And the owner of the place, who has this reputation as a kind of saint, was walking around, tagging the people, with signs that told how many useful organs they had. It was a huge organ-bank, full of living people who pay for the privilege of a quiet, clean place to die, off the street, by providing organs whenever this guy needs them." (1.4.158)
A for-profit hospice might seem completely insane, but in the Bombay that Shantaram paints for us, dying is a profitable business. The moribund (SAT vocab, baby) homeless are so grateful for a quiet place to cast off their mortal coils that they pay a guy with both money and their organs (!).
"I never realized that men had to climb six flights of stairs, to fill a damn tank, so that I could take those showers. [...] I told Prabaker I'd never take another shower in that hotel again."
"He said, No, no you don't understand. [...] It's only because of tourists like me, he explained, that those men have a job." (1.4.167-169)
Lin is used to sloughing off the sweat of Bombay three times a day in his hotel shower, but when he finds out where the water comes from he feels guilty. However, the guys who fill the tank are so poor that they are grateful for the work and the pay. Of course, there's probably something that could be done on an infrastructure level so that they're not choosing between back-breaking work and poverty…
"But… but…" I stammered, flattered by the generous gesture, and yet horrified at the thought of life in the slum. I remembered my one visit to Prabaker's slum only too well. The smell of the open latrines, the heartbreaking poverty, the cramp and mill of people, thousands upon thousands of people—it was a kind of hell, in my memory, a new metaphor that stood for the worst, or almost the worst, that could happen. (1.7.69)
General Sherman had it wrong: war isn't hell; poverty is. The slum is basically a big old symbol of poverty in the city, and all the difficulties that come from living in it stem from a lack of economic resources and power.
To the right, looking from the road, the World Trade Centre was a huge, modern, air-conditioned building. It was filled to three levels with shops, and displays of jewels, silks, carpets, and intricate craftworks. To the left was the slum, a sprawling ten acres of wretched poverty with seven thousand tiny huts, housing twenty-five thousand of the city's poorest people. (1.8.52)
Once again we get the juxtaposition of hyper-wealth and uber-poverty. (Yeah, we like prefixes too; thanks for noticing.) The World Trade Center stands for international commerce and a cosmopolitan, globalized society. The slum, though, stands for what that society is built upon.
"There is no act of faith more beautiful than the generosity of the very poor," Abdullah said, in his quiet tone. (2.9.133)
Abdullah thinks that the generosity of the poor is a beautiful "act of faith." Why would that be? It's definitely beautiful, as all generosity is, but there must be something that the very poor believe in, have faith in, for him to say such a thing. Perhaps it's that their generosity will someday be returned to them.
Known as pavement dwellers, they were people who made homes for themselves on every available strip of unused land and any footpath wide enough to support their flimsy shelters, while still permitting pedestrian traffic. [...] When the monsoon struck, their position was always dangerous and sometimes untenable, and many of them sought refuge in the slums. (2.12.91)
Is Lin serious right now? There are people who are so poor, so bad off, that they have to come to the slum to save themselves? This is bleak. The pavement dwellers make the slum, which is periodically burned down or knocked over by government workers, seem permanent.
"You know, poverty looks good on you. If you ever got really down and out, you might be irresistible." (2.12.127)
Okay, Karla, you might want to go back and look at the other quotes in this section before you start acting like poverty is sexy. But we'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe what she likes in Lin is his selflessness in giving of his time and energy to the slum-dwellers. Or maybe she's just sick.
I'd escaped from prison almost two years before, but the fact of the fugitive life is that you have to keep on escaping, every day and every night. (1.1.9)
Lin might have busted out of the slammer, but he can't escape the fact that he's been branded as a criminal and has some time to do. Here's where criminality as a concept starts to become clear. It's not just that he committed a crime once. It's that he is a criminal, like it's a part of him that he can't shake.
I was Australia's most wanted man, escaped from a jail term of twenty years for armed robberies, and a hot new name on the Interpol fugitive list. (1.1.98)
We can't help but think that Lin sounds a little bit braggy about all of this. Seriously, "hot new name"? What, is he Lupita Nyong'o? But you can't really blame him. Most wanted lists are kind of like top 40 charts—they make criminals famous, and fame is, well, hot.
The traders in the street stalls outside sold counterfeits of Lacoste, Cardin, and Cartier with a certain impudent panache, the taxi drivers parked along the street accepted tips to tilt their mirrors away from the unlawful or forbidden acts that took place on the seats behind them, and a number of the cops who attended to their duties with diligence, at the station across the road, had paid hefty bribes for the privilege of that lucrative posting in the city centre. (1.2.112)
So, you're saying Bombay might have a teensy weensy problem with criminality? Lin is giving us the lowdown on how every single citizen participates in corruption, each in his or her own special way. It's not just the big bad guys who make the city lawless; it's a culture of corruption.
"Civilisation, after all, is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit." (1.2.162)
Didier is just chock full of one-liners, and this one actually had us thinking for a while. So it's not so interesting that we eat animal meat, but rather that we don't eat human meat, according to him. What does our prohibition of cannibalism tell us about civilization, then? Maybe that it's all about barely keeping it together, keeping us from annihilating the human race.
The first rule of black business everywhere is: never let anyone know what you're thinking. Didier's corollary to the rule was: always know what the other thinks of you. (1.2.196)
"Black business," as Lin calls it, is all illegal trade, the black market. It's not so much that there are clear victims or that it's a violent crime. It's more buying and selling things without paying the taxes or going through all the regulatory paperwork. It can also, of course, refer to trade in illegal items like drugs or arms.
There's a special sleight of hand that's peculiar to policemen: the conjuring trick that palms and conceals banknotes with a skill that experienced shell-game swindlers envy. (1.3.132)
Lin compares the cops to magicians with phrases like "sleight of hand" and "conjuring trick." They can make money disappear with an abracadabra. This ability, we have to assume, is not part of standard police academy training. But the fact that they can accept a bribe so easily and nonchalantly means that they are living in a corrupt system.
A moment before, I had been drifting toward sleep. Suddenly I was hard awake. I plunged into memories and thoughts of my daughter, my parents, my brother; of the crimes I'd committed, and the loves I'd betrayed and lost forever. (2.9.67)
Up until this point, visiting Prabaker's village, Lin doesn't seem to think too much about what his life of crime has meant for others. He's been focused on how awful things are for him, how it's not exactly his fault because he was on drugs, and how of course he had to escape from prison because it was inhumane. Now he is seeing the effects his actions had on others.
It was technically illegal to sleep on the streets in Bombay. The cops enforced the regulation, but they were as pragmatic about it as they were about enforcing the laws against prostitution on the Street of Ten Thousand Whores. (2.9.71)
That little adverb, "technically," changes the meaning of the adjective "illegal." Talk about a modifier. When something is only "technically illegal" it's understood to be a victimless, unenforced crime. And poverty, in Bombay, is basically, technically, illegal. The cops realize how crazy it is to imprison people for sleeping on the streets when they've got nowhere else to go, so they are realistic about their roundups.
The worst thing about corruption as a system of governance, Didier once said, is that it works so well. (2.9.112)
Oh, Didier, you snarky, ironic Frenchman. Unfortunately, he's pointing out a super-widespread problem in Bombay, where everyone from the taxi drivers to the highest-ranking officials are corrupt (see the quotes above). The idea that it "works so well," seems crazy, but from Lin's description it does "work."
Working for Abdel Khader Khan was my first real instruction in organized crime—until then I'd been no more than a desperate man, doing stupid, cowardly things to feed a stupid, cowardly heroin habit, and then a desperate exile earning small commissions on random deals. (3.22.1)
What's the difference between a smalltime crook and a mobster? Here it is. Lin, before he meets Khaderbhai, just commits his crimes in order to pay for drugs or survive in the slum. It's like doing odd jobs to make enough cash for a concert. Joining Khader's operation, though, serves a higher purpose. It's like joining the military, or working for a big corporation.
"I am French," he replied, admiring the dew on his half-raised glass, "I am gay, I am Jewish, and I am a criminal, more or less in that order. Bombay is the only city I have ever found that allows me to be all four of those things, at the same time." (1.2.151)
Didier's response is snide, as usual, but he's pointing to the fact that all cultures and countries are intolerant of certain traits and combinations of traits. He might be able to be gay and Jewish in French, but he probably can't be a criminal as easily there as he can in Bombay, for example.
The evening crowd of tourists from Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Norway, America, Japan, and a dozen other countries thinned out, giving way to the night crowd of Indians and expatriates who called Bombay home. The locals reclaimed places like Leopold's, the Mocambo, Café Mondegar, and the Light of Asia every night, when the tourists sought the safety of their hotels. (1.4.20)
The divide between day and night at Leopold's and other bars isn't just between foreigners and natives. It's between tourists and locals. Lin includes the exiled foreigners, the expatriates, among the locals, because they aren't just visiting. They have inserted themselves into Mumbai culture.
"Oh, I don't know. It's the right place for me, if you understand what I mean, and I knew that on the first day, in the first hour that I came here. So, in a sense, I was comfortable from the beginning." (1.4.144-145)
Karla is clearly not originally from Bombay. Her language and looks give her away as European. However, she is so exiled from her origins—seemingly disconnected from any family or roots—that she is able to feel comfortable and at home in her adopted city and country.
Whenever he spied men and women strolling on the road, he sounded the horn to draw their attention, gesticulated with his thumb to indicate the foreigner in the rear of the bus, and slowed to a crawl, so that each pedestrian could examine me with satisfactory thoroughness. (1.5.156)
Lin's exile in India isn't so noticeable when he's in the gigantic, cosmopolitan city of Bombay. But when he goes out into the countryside to visit Prabaker's village it's harder for him to blend in. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and becomes a tourist attraction in his new homeland.
As I walked along the narrow rag-and-plastic lanes of the slum, word spread that the foreigner was on his way. (1.8.56)
When Lin moves into the slum, it's like an exile within an exile. Not only is he unable to return to his native country of Australia because of the prison sentence awaiting him there, but also, when he loses his money, he's unable to pay his way in the expat scene in Bombay. He is exiled to the impoverished slum, where he must once again try to make a home for himself.
Look at the big, strong foreigner, saving himself, and running away from the fire, while our men run towards it… (1.8.77)
On Lin's first day in the slum it is engulfed in flames. He still hasn't settled in or made friends. He's still an exile, and it would be easy for him to just bail. But he imagines the opinions of the slum-dwellers and, in that moment, joins them. It's like he's shaking off his exiled nature and joining a community.
As we got out of the car I heard the cop say loudly, The gora speaks Hindi? Bhagwan save us from foreigners! (2.9.130)
Nobody expects Lin to speak Hindi, because they usually take him for a tourist who's just in Bombay to see the sights and head home after a couple weeks. His adopting the local language is part of accepting that he is exiled, unable to return home, and must make his home from scratch.
Feared and shunned, the lepers formed themselves into mobile slums that settled, within an hour, in any open space they could find, and made a traceless departure in even less time. (2.10.98)
The lepers are even more exiled than the foreigners who come to live in Bombay, because they are unable to really ever settle anywhere. They are outcasts, and their disease causes so much fear and revulsion that, no matter where they go, they will soon be exiled.
They were all, we were all, strangers to the city. None of us was born there. All of us were refugees, survivors, pitched up on the shores of the island city. If there was a bond between us, it was the bond of exiles, the kinship of the lost, the lonely, and the dispossessed. (2.16.129)
Nobody belongs in Bombay so, in a way, everybody belongs in Bombay. Here we see that exile provides a figurative common ground, bringing the cast-offs together through the bond of shared experience.
I've known men like Khaled in prisons, on battlefields, and in the dens where smugglers, mercenaries, and other exiles meet. (3.22.3)
Lin equates exiles with smugglers and mercenaries that meet in "dens," which really doesn't sound so good, we've gotta admit. This unfavorable look casts the exile as a criminal. In fact, being exiled is a form of punishment, so his comparison isn't all that far off.
The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. [...] It's the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in resurrection and decay. It's the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. (1.1.4)
"Visions" of India don't just have to use our sight. In fact, we can use our other senses, like the olfactory, to construct smellovision images of the place. Lin's scent painting spans both high to low, nasty and delicious.
The choking humidity makes amphibians of us all, in Bombay, breathing water in air; you learn to live with it, and you learn to like it, or you leave. (1.1.5)
The vision of India that Lin provides makes it seem like a different world, as though you must become an entirely different species in order to live there. Humidity is, of course, a part of life in tropical, coastal areas, but the claim that people living in it must be "amphibians" puts a lot of distance between the speaker and what he's describing.
The open windows of our battered bus gave us the aromas of spices, perfumes, diesel smoke, and the manure of oxen, in a steamy but not unpleasant mix, and voices rose up everywhere above ripples of unfamiliar music. Every corner carried gigantic posters, advertising Indian films. (1.1.25)
Lin's ride into the city from the airport is a full-force introduction to India. The bus's windows are down, which gives the passengers direct contact with the city atmosphere (rather than being enclosed in an airplane, for example). This also lets in smell and sound, in contrast to the flat, 2-D vision of India you would get from the movies advertised on the posters.
"She's right, Lin," Karla added. "This is not India. There are people here from every part of India, but Bombay isn't India. Bombay is an own-world, a world in itself. The real India is out there." (1.2.81)
Basically every city that's bigger than average, or that has a university, in the world gets this kind of "own-world" treatment. We can't help but wonder why everyone is so worried about authenticity, and why the experience of Bombay, for example, can't be one of many versions of India.
And with the seed of that resolve, born in that convulsion and portent, Prabaker's dark circuit of the city began. When we resumed our tour, he took me to a slave market not too far from Dongri, an inner suburb famous for its mosques, bazaars, and restaurants specializing in Mughlai dishes. (1.3.73)
Given the stink and crowd of the descriptions of India that Lin has already shared, the idea of a "dark" tour of Bombay is pretty terrifying. The "convulsion and portent" is the horrific car crash and resulting violent mob that Prabu and Lin experience on their way to the tour. That pain and violence show up again in the slave market, which is listed as a tourist attraction alongside marketplaces and eateries. Dark, indeed
Just as the contracted lanes seemed, with every twist and turn, to belong to another age, so too did the appearance of the people change as we moved deeper into the maze. I saw less and less of the western-style cotton shirts and trousers, so common everywhere else in the city, until finally those fashions disappeared from all but the youngest children. (1.3.76)
Lin leaves the regular tourist route with Prabu to go to the slave market, and he compares the experience to going into a maze. This would indicate that there is only one way out, and that only someone with special knowledge could get out. This vision of the city as full of traps and requiring a guide is a pretty good summary of Lin's experience of it so far.
"Go with him, Lin," he said. "Go with Prabaker, to the village. Every city in the world has a village in its heart. You will never understand the city, unless you first understand the village. Go there. When you return, I will see what India has made of you. Bonne chance!" (1.4.131)
Didier's theory, that every city has a village inside, is related to Karla's wish for the authentic India, above. It's the idea that there's a true India, one that can't be found in Bombay, but rather must be discovered where tourists don't go. That idea of the traveler or exile being the one with access to the true country pervades Shantaram.
"No, Lin! This is India. Nobody can take his clothes off, not even to wash his bodies. This is India. Nobody is ever naked in India. And especially, nobody is naked without clothes." (1.5.257)
Now there's a head scratcher—being naked with your clothes on? Lin is providing a cultural vision of India, describing a practice, but this scene could also be taken as a metaphor for his experience of the country. He is always trying to get at the heart of the matter, to the truth, but there is always another layer to peel off.
I lay back on the bed, in the dark, listening to the sounds of the street that rose to my open window: the paanwalla, calling customers to the delights of his aromatic morsels; the watermelon man, piercing the warm, humid night with his plangent cry; a street acrobat, shouting through his sweaty exertions for a crowd of tourists; and music, always music. Did ever a people love music, I wondered, more than the Indians? (1.7.57)
We really dig the way that Shantaram doesn't only use sight to create images of India, but brings in all five senses to try to recreate the experience of being there. This sound painting, like the scent one above, brings in the chaos, so many different elements, that combine to make a particular, unique place.
"That's how we keep this crazy place together—with the heart. Two hundred [...] languages, and a billion people. India is the heart. It's the heart that keeps us together. There's no place with people like my people, Lin. There's no heart like the Indian heart." (3.22.79)
Okay, we have to admit it: even with all of the descriptions of slave markets and nasty smells, Lin is so romantic about India. He's always idealizing it, presenting it as the perfect place, maybe even because of its imperfections. The way he does this is by showing the people of India as the best people on the planet.