Magid and Millat: Master Manipulators

{Finished with White Teeth}

Debby: I have to say, one of my favorite scenes in the book was the grand meeting between Magid and Millat (not the least because the scene is set on my birthday, November 5th). Everyone had their hopes and fears set on this encounter. The Chalfens wanted the brothers to reunite and heal their psychological scars. Samad wanted them to reestablish their faith. Alsana just wanted her boys to be happy and come home and need her. But why did the brothers consent to finally interacting? Why did they not want to see each other? Was it because they knew each other so innately that they feared the discrepancies that had maturated over the years? Was it out of fear or out of a forced sense of cavalarity (cavalereness? cavaleré?)?

Tim: I wondered how they didn’t meet when Magid first arrived back in England, but I confess to barely even remembering this scene where they actually do meet existed. It’s interesting, I guess, but is of very little consequence to the eventual ending of the book. The scene itself is a mere byproduct of the prevailing plot, such as it is, and not a turning point of any sort.

Debby: But that’s a problem, isn’t it? How is it such a “sidenote” that Samad kidnapped his own son, shipped him off overseas to live for a decade, and upon his return, Millat refuses to even see his own twin? While I don’t want to go all Chalfenist here, I do think this scene is a mini climax in and of itself. While the author doesn’t give us every detail of their conversation, she does show us vividly how they use the space they are in to convey a specific message. They are finally able to interact at a physical level after all of these years– I think it’s a powerful scene.

Tim: This is around the time the book lost me as a whole. I was content to watch the clever turnings of the writer in a plot going not much of anywhere for 350, 370 pages. But then I got tired of it not going anywhere and so by the time this scene came around, to be honest, I just didn’t care all that much. So Magid comes back and they shout at each other without listening to one another. So what? The decision had been made, Millat refused to see Magid when he came home. The scene would have been remarkable to me if one of them had made some meaningful impression on the other, but neither did.

Debby: Are you sure? I think part of Millat’s over-doing the weed in the scene might have something to do with his desire not to bring injury or interruption to his brother’s big “thing”. Millat wants a revolution, he doesn’t care about a mouse. I don’t really know where I’m going with this but I don’t seem him acting “against” his brother necessarily.

Tim: Really? I thought the whole point of the weed was to psych himself up to do something big and dramatic that his KEVIN brothers wouldn’t. I didn’t see much of a direct connection to Magid at all.

Debby: Umm… There are plenty of other drugs to “rev” a person up. Weed is not exactly one of them. I think Millat wanted a spectacle. He clearly didn’t understand the religious elements he was dealing with (outside of the “rules” he was supposed to follow). I just think he wanted to do something important– similar to his brother. Only shooting Chalfen was “something important” to his KEVIN brothers. I know I don’t have a clear argument here, but think about Millat’s history. He gets away with all sorts of crap! Why was he more nervous this time? Why did he take so much weed to “psych himself up” as you said?

Tim: Of course he wanted a spectacle. Page 415: “ ‘And is this what we are here for’ Millat had yelled at all of them. ‘Is this what we joined KEVIN for? To Take no action? To sit around on our arses playing with words?’ “ And they wouldn’t do it. So when he found an eighth of weed, he smoked it all because it was available, because he was fed up, and I’m pretty sure the narrator says at one point, so he wouldn’t lose his nerve. I’ll buy that there may be some psychological motivating factor in not wanting to play second fiddle to his twin, but to your point, how much is Millat actually spoiling for a “revolution?”

Debby: Well, when we talked about this at one point, you said something to the effect of Millat being the social “glue” around his school and local scene. He was able to organize and control everyone, but the second he stepped away those groups disappeared. KEVIN was bigger than him– bigger than what he brought to the table. So now instead of creating a vehicle for his own use, a much larger vehicle was being presented to him. A vehicle with members and religious rites and power. He wanted that power and he wanted to use it. In the same way that Magid wanted to use his mind to heighten the levels of science. They both wanted to, in essence, play god. Maybe they recognized that nature in one another when they were in that room, debating the intricacies of the solar system and patent legislation.

Tim: Yeah, I still just don’t believe, based on what’s described to us about that scene, that any sort of real communication was going on. They’re talking at each other, and no one seems to be listening.

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