Gregory David Roberts
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Buy *Shantaram* online

Gregory David Roberts
St. Martin's Griffin
944 pages
September 2005
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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I have a confession to make. Books that can double as pillows or sitting stools almost invariably scare the hell out of me. The fear of being buried under a tower of words, lines and pages can be quite overpowering. However, one look at Shantaram and all the trepidation vanished. The opening lines took care of that.

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is an universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”
When the first page stares at you with such words, it becomes hard to put down that book. Add to that an Australian author who has lived in the slums of Bombay, and you almost expect to be enriched by some sort of karmic philosophy. Philosophy and spiritual journey or not, this certainly is no karma in a bottle. The story of Shantaram is a story of adventure and daring, a fictionalized account of the life of author Gregory David Roberts who escaped an Australian prison and moved to Bombay to spend almost a decade of his life in the slums and underworld of this city.

The narrator is a man called Lindsay, who escapes an Australian jail and arrives in Bombay on a fake passport. Here he befriends taxi driver Prabakar, who finds him a place to live in a slum away from the eyes of the law. This slum is to be the home of Linbaba, as Lindsay is called, for the next few years. While he runs a makeshift first-aid center in the slum, he also engages in criminal activities like smuggling and counterfeiting, and eventually starts gun-running to Afghanistan. Lin’s experiences in Bombay range from falling in love with the beautiful Karla, who introduces him to the world of prostitutes, to meeting the motherly Rukhmabai of Sundargaon, who christens him “Shantaram”, or man of peace. Interspersed amid the numerous characters like Rukhmabai, Prabakar, Karla, and Kader are the sweat and grime, dirt and squalor, disease and fire and extreme poverty - all narrated with genuine affection, passion and generosity. This love and generosity towards the characters and circumstances is what sets Robert’s work apart. What could have been a mere narrative of poor people’s lives is transformed into an extraordinary piece of fiction.

Shantaram is not just a book; it is a sojourn, a spiritual journey into life that shows that even the most complex and powerful systems have at their core a simple and beautiful pattern. As a great poet had once said “Simple is the seal of truth, and beauty is the splendour of truth.” Shantaram reinforces one’s belief in those words.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Shampa Chatterjee, 2005

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