Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shantaram

How often did you come across a book that presents philosophy put into practice or reality? I came across only one. That too by accident. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Probably the only happen-to-read for sometime on philosophy of life. I wasn't aware that it depicts this genre as it is expressed in a realistic fashion. It is said and I also believed that most of the events in Shantaram are real. And it describes about a man - an escaped convict, a drug addict who lands in Bombay without an objective. Then coincidentally he gets involved with Mumbaikars, experiences life of Bombay for more than five years, falls insanely in love with his dream girl, becomes a gang member of Mumbai mafia.


Some of you who haven't visited Mumbai, this book describes the city in a grand fashion. Leopold's Cafe and it's regular customers, where he finds the girl of his dreams. He visits a Northern village of Maharashtra, Sunder Village and learns how affectionate and hospitable people are. You'll also get to know how the title of the book is derived. Then comes his life in a slum. I initially thought why did he ever move to a slum. You know its the shitty place and a disgrace to the city. But, he describes the sweetness of its environment and its dwellers. The eternal bond he develops with its innocent and down-to-earth people is so vividly explained that you will fall for them. Remember, all the descriptions are from the eyes of a foreigner.

The struggle for survival of torturous & brutal life in Arthur Road prison is so deep with inhuman people and bloody environment which made me get into his shoes to feel his agony. He almost died there. The cell mates helped him survive by sharing their food despite enduring beatings from overseers. He is later rescued by Don of Bombay. Here comes the life in the underworld. The book clearly explains illegal businesses involved in it. This is one of the reasons that will make me read selected passages and chapters of it. He explains about black market currency operations and counterfeiting passports and how dangerous these businesses are that makes men absorbed in them vulnerable to death. This is also the same reason which makes me think the book is only suited for adults. Because everyone in the world doesn't understand the hero in this book does all these things just to mask the guilt of leaving his family and close friends who care for him the most. Meanwhile, he gets a chance to work in Bollywood movies as an extra. He also gets a chance to have a glimpse of Chunky Pandey on the sets of Paanch Paapi.

Another important reason which touches my heart every time I read this book is the world of romance detailed in it. It... what do I call it... as my co-worker said, provides three dimensional picture of a mind of a man when a he thinks about his best woman. It also provides a spectacular view of romance between lovers in each others' arms. I am sure there will always be a pleasing smile on your face when you read through romantic passages throughout the book. Not to mention again that I have bookmarked all these pages and chapters. I must say I got to read them again and again to bring me back to high spirits.

The last part of the book narrates about his voluntary involvement in mission Afghanistan. I believe this is the  boring part in the entire well written saga. I thought it would have been nicer if the story was cut short to skip this portion. After surviving the war, he returns to Bombay and finds the mafia council is restructured since many of its prominent men died in the war and in other conspiracies.

Overall, it really is a good read. The proverbial quotes in Shantaram are so insightful that makes me ponder over them again and again. If you are looking for a book with a strong plot like the ones in Jeffrey Archer's or John Grisham's, then you won't like this one. This is pure and original drama. It has explicit language - so, another reason: not suited for kids. The ultimate question remains: Who does "I" refer in the book? Is it the author himself, I don't know. 

Further reading:
Shantaram - Wkiquote