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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Friday, May 19, 2006


By Gregory David Roberts
Publisher Abacus. 2003.

Most books can be read and reviewed. Or so I think. Books like 'Shantaram' though are far and few between. Beyond being just another book, they happen belong to a class if work, reading which can transform life the way you've known it.

If you think your life sucks, try for a moment follow 'Shantaram's' footsteps and spend maybe a day, or if a day sounds a bit too much a couple of hours in a crowded Bombay slum. If that seems easy, then make the path slightly more challenging by taking a couple of steps into the Arthur Road prison. Too easy. Then head to Afghanistan only to be confronted by hostile forces whichever side you choose look at.

Even as the bullets whiz through every conceivable corner, keep your faith alive, continue believing in the essential goodness of people around you. Something that becomes manifest only in moments of adversity.

They say a lot of things are not for the faint-hearted. So I'll be honest. Not that I was born with that proverbial silver-spoon in my mouth, but I really couldn't undertake even half of the amazing journeys that Australian author Gregory David Roberts takes you on. And each of these unfold bit by bit in this remarkable work that is clearly a long labour of love.

After all, this book has been 11 years in the making, Roberts has seen a couple of drafts destroyed by the prison guards. Though he refused to let that dent his spirit and carried on with what he knew best. That included a lot of stuff that sounds confessional, a lot of stuff that is gripping, a whole lot more moving - all of which works together to put this magnum opus in that rare category that I love to call 'unputdownable.'

A magnum opus it truly is. At 936 pages in its trade paper version, the journey is not for the light wristed. In the one month that I spent reading it, I perfected the art of using extra cushions to get the reading posture right.

I laughed when the journey first began. A journey that saw Lin, the protagonist being transformed into a person he probably himself imagined he could be. His discovery of the eager eyed, wide-smiled guide Prabhakar, the travel to the village, the subsequent move to Prabhakar's village. Then there are Lin's intriguing circle of friends who almost come alive as you flip to the next page with bated breath.

I have this picture of Karla, Vikram, Maurizio, Lettie, Kaderbhai and a whole lot of others. Which is partly why I wait I just can't wait to see if Johnny Depp's cinematic version will do justice to all of them or at least to some of them. Will they leap out of the movie screen, just as they do in the pages of the book?

It's going to be sometime before we figure that out, in the interim you could get things going by getting a copy of 'Shantaram' and embarking on a journey that will certainly help you see the white in the black.

Most of you, have already heard this from me, but I am going to say it one more time, after all who's to stop me, this is my space - if there is one book you intend to read in your lifetime, make it 'Shantaram'.

I won't end this without sharing my favourite Shantaram bits though:

"Nobody is ever naked in India. And especially, nobody is naked without clothes. do you take a shower?
....By wearing the over-underpants over underpants."

"There's a truth deeper than experience. It's beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It's an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We're helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any hear would willingly pay. It doesn't always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabhakar told it to me, just as I'm telling it to you now."

"The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men, he said. It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men - it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil."

"I stood in the harsh electric light of that new tunnel, in Bombay's Arthur Road Prison, and I wanted to laugh. Hey guys, I wanted to say, can't you be a little more original? But I couldn't speak. Fear dries a man's mouth, and hate strangles him. That's why hate has no great literature: real fear and real hate have no words."

"That's how we keep this crazy place together - with the heart.... India is the heart. It's the heart that keeps us together. There's no place with people, like my people, Lin. There's no heart like the INDIAN HEART."

Need I say more?