By Gregory David Roberts
The truth is, that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, are moving towards God” – Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
What happens when you start a very thick novel? You first get acquainted with the characters. Then you settle down into a long term commitment to indulge in their lives. You grow with them, learn from them, live their lives like a shadow. You feel their joys and their pains. And it is these books, these 900 + pages books that, just by virtue of their length and the time you spent with them, stay with you forever. With it’s gripping tale, philosophical musings on love and life and vivid portrayal of Mumbai, Shantaram is a page-turner that’s hard to put down.
Shantaram Exudes Real Life Charm
The charm of this book lies mainly in the fact that it’s based on the true life experiences of the author, an Australian convict who ran away from prison, ended up in India, fell in love with the country, its people and its customs. He learnt Hindi and Marathi, opened a free clinic in the slums of Mumbai, played an extra in an Indian movie and fought wars side by side with the Muslim mafia. It goes on and on and in the end, you are left wanting more.
Characters Come Alive
The author brings each character to life in such a way that their image and personality are embedded in your mind as you turn the pages. From the humble smiling Prabhu, to the mafia boss Khader bhai to the wise and beautiful Karla, all characters are distinct and complete. The book is littered with poignant phrases that resonate with the readers:
“I think wisdom is over rated. Wisdom is just cleverness, with all the guts kicked out of it” – Karla
And in the end you are left yearning to know more about the future of Lin and of Karla, the Indian mafia, and the unwritten rules of love and care of the slums.
“There’s no act of faith more beautiful than the generosity of the very poor” – Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
Such is the power behind David’s words, that they reach out and hit you right where you feel it – deep inside your soul.
The Real India
From an outsider’s point of view, you get a taste of the real India. The harmony and working of the slums leave you in awe. The lessons of love, empathy, solidarity with neighbours, justice and governance of the slums is a story on its own; as are the inner workings of the mafia, its masterminds, their separation of religious affinities and political strategies and the intellect of their leaders.
The script is rich with philosophical musings that need reflection and immersion:
“A dream is a place where a wish and fear meet. When the wish and the fear are exactly the same, we call the dream a nightmare” – Shantaram
Shantaram – The Story Behind The Story
The story of the author himself, is one of resilience and rehabilitation. The story goes that in 1990, around the time the book ends, Roberts was captured in Frankfurt after being caught smuggling heroin into the country. It seems that he lived by the philosophy of his writings:
Men are just men- it is what they do or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. – Shantaram
He was extradited to Australia and served a further six years in prison, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. His intention was to serve the rest of his sentence to give himself the chance to be reunited with his family.
During his second stay in Australian prison, he began writing Shantaram. The manuscript was destroyed by prison wardens not once but twice, while Roberts was writing it. The film rights of this book have been sold but somehow it never went in to production. However, the novel has been published in 39 languages in 42 territories worldwide and has sold more than 6 million copies.
Why read Shantaram?
This book is a must-read. It has a bit of everything: love, compassion, mystery, action, adventure, loyalty and vulnerability. A highly recommended book which will be well-worth the reader’s time.
The author’s grasp on story-telling makes it un-put-downable and his musings on the philosophy of life are a treat for any reader.
“ The truth is that there are no good men or bad men, it is their deeds that have goodness and badness in them…”
About Mona Wahid
Mona Wahid holds a Bachelors Degree in Law and Political science. She runs a Facebook group called "Reader's Lounge" and is also the moderator of her Islamabad-based book club. Mona is an avid reader and a mother of 3.