I remember how I felt when my colleague gave me a copy of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a bulky book in my hands and my first thoughts were, this will take me a month! It was my first fat book and when I was done reading it, I was in love with Mumbai. I’ve never been there, but Shantaram took me there and then to Afghanistan. It was a journey that I took with him in his transformation from Lin to Shantaram.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts starts with the year 1980 in Australia, where Roberts is serving a sentence for armed robberies. He escapes from the prison and comes to India where he spends 10 years. These 10 years complete 900 pages of the journey of Mumbai’s underbelly. In Mumbai, Robert meets Prabaker, who address him fondly as Linbaba. Prabaker takes Linbaba to Colaba district of Mumbai, where he meets Karla. The words that come out in praise of Karla’s beauty from Lin’s heart is no less than Bollywood dialogues of heroes that we hear these days. Lin manages to go around Mumbai and also visits Prabaker’s village, where Prabaker’s mother fondly names him as Shantaram, a man of peace.
On his journey back to the city, Lin gets mugged and lands up in a slum in Mumbai. After fighting for survival for initial days, he then sets up a free Doctor’s clinic and gets famous in Mumbai’s underbelly. From there on, the journey of Shantaram begins. He faces a bout of cholera that engulfs the whole slum, gets involved with Mafia kings of Mumbai and gets thrown into Arthur Jail. When you read the part about Lin’s experience in Arthur Jail, you will get a feeling of hate towards Humankind. He is tortured beyond human limits and this part of the book makes for the most revolting yet emotionally rousing moments of the story.
Fortunately, thanks to the ties with Mumbai’s don, Khader Bhai, Lin gets released from the prison. After that, Khader takes Lin under his care, the world where Lin comes across terrorism, drugs, ransom from the film industry, heroin addiction and much more. By no means Shantaram is an ordinary text of 900 pages, it is a journey which will take you to places which you never even had imagined.
Overall, the book turned out to one of the best books that I have read. Though I was a little skeptical about the number of pages, I completed the book within 15-20 days. And the story is now embedded in my mind. Karla- the free spirit, Lin’s transformation into Shantaram, the colorful supporting characters, evenings at Leopold Cafe, Khader’s menacing words. Everything will register in your mind and will never budge out of there. The gorgeous language full of lyrical and richly philosophical sentences will take you to a parallel universe.
Shantaram is one book that everyone should read. Not just because of Mumbai, but to understand a totally different side of the world. The world where people adopt India as their own, live among the regular people and become one of us; become Shantaram. You will feel sated. Shantaram is a book which is thrilling, philosophical, racy, romantic, heartbreaking nd possibly about everything that exists in a not so regular world.
If you haven’t read this one, you must have been living under a rock!