The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Shame’s characters are all mythic, larger than life. Omar Khayyam Shakil, the most fully realized character, is followed from his fabulous conception to his grisly death. Not only his father but also his mother is unknown. He is the child of three once-wealthy recluse sisters (Chhunni, Munee, and Bunny). On the death of their father, who has never permitted them to leave the huge, ancient house, they have a party for the local British colonial administrators and once again seal off their home from the world. All undergo the symptoms of pregnancy and a child is born, to be nursed by all three. Omar grows up in the decaying mansion, crammed with glories of the past. Spoiled by his mothers, scorned by the town’s people, fat, unattractive, and lecherous, Omar is an unlikely hero. After he has left home to become a doctor, a second child, Babar, a future revolutionary, is even more mysteriously born.

General Raza Hyder is a more conventional protagonist. The product of a wealthy, traditionalist Muslim Pakistani family, he rescues his bride-to-be, Bilquis, and introduces her into his ultra-fundamentalist Muslim home, whose forty daughters and wives share a single sleeping room under the iron hand of the matriarch, his grandmother. (It is here that Bilquis becomes friends with Rani Humayun, Iskander Harrapa’s bride-to-be.) Salman Rushdie’s description of Hyder serves as an example of the novel’s wry technique of characterization: five-foot-eight, “no giant, you’ll...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Omar Khayyam Shakil

Omar Khayyam Shakil, a physician friend of Iskander Harappa and son-in-law of General Raza Hyder. Omar is an antihero who describes himself as peripheral to his own life. He grows up in a secluded, crumbling palace on what seems to him like the edge of the world, in an unnamed country that has all the attributes of Pakistan. His mother is one of three sisters who reveal to no one, including Omar, which of the three gave birth to him or who his father is. At the age of twelve, he leaves home for school. He becomes a physician and engages in a life of debauchery with Iskander Harappa. He becomes obsessed with and marries Sufiya Zinobia Hyder, the retarded daughter of General Hyder. His life is always shaped by other actors—by his three mothers and by Iskander, Raza, and Sufiya. He is finally executed when he is about sixty-five years old, accused, wrongly, of having killed General Hyder.


Chhunni (CHEW-nee),


Munnee, and

Bunny Shakil

Bunny Shakil, Omar’s three mothers. They live walled off from the world, receiving supplies into their mansion through a dumbwaiter. After Omar leaves, they have another son, Babar. Babar is killed by General Raza Hyder. Years later, the three women execute General Hyder, an act that results in Omar’s death.

Iskander Harappa

Iskander Harappa, the prime minister, a character based on Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Iskander is a rich playboy until his friends and relatives begin to gain high positions in society. Out of competitive sense, not social concern, he becomes serious, giving up his playboy life. He uses his charm and a radical program of “Islamic socialism” to gain power, based on mass support. Cynical and...

(The entire section is 761 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As in Midnight's Children, Shame contains a gallery of fantastic, even bizarre characters, the most striking being Sufiya Zinobia....

(The entire section is 359 words.)