Sunday, October 17, 2010

Shantaram- Book Review

It’s been a while I blogged and this is the first time that I am blogging about a book- “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. I read a lot of books and usually I am tempted to blog but never got the enthusiasm or energy to do- I normally move on to the next book. This book was suggested by Shareen.C [ One of my good friends who share the art of reading! ]. Initially I thought this book has something to do with self-help or as the title suggests, it is something of a philosophy/religious undertone laced book. NO ITS NOT- the title is so misleading. This is the name given by the Maharashtr-ian mother in a small village to Roberts!!

Nevertheless, I just followed what Shareen said and bought the book- It was an amazing roller-coaster ride for 900 pages and quite sincerely I did not want the book to finish. It’s a great journey of fate, love, compassion, empathy, Mumbai- underworld, Mumbai-slums/zhopadpatti, Afghan war, Leopalds café at Colaba and Kano the bear!! I could not resist not adding “Kano” the bear and the fact that its transportation to Nariman Point was given in the last parts of the book made me laugh and think a lot!! Kano the bear was “wanted” by Mumbai policemen and Roberts was involved in transporting him from point A to point B- This whole thing seems simple but it’s too hilarious and thought provoking when you read the book. The slum dwellers were more bothered about transporting the bear safely rather than thinking about themselves- This small thing alone reflects the whole humanity piece!! This is a real-life story with great attention to detail and his journey across multiple things and what he does at multiple places- The common thread is his journey of fate and love and his ability to connect to people with compassion. Wherever he goes, his unique ability to look at humanity is something that struck me very hard- I mean we all go to multiple places and interact with multiple people but looking at humanity in this angle seemed very sincere! As Robert says in the last chapter of the book – “Every human heartbeat is a universe of possibilities”. This resonates with the journey and the closing credits of the book- “Human Will has the power to transform its fate and Roberts always felt that fate was unchangeable, fixed at birth- But the truth is that, whatever be the game you are in and whatever be the luck you have, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love”. This is exactly what he wanted to portray through his semi auto-biographical book!!

For starters, there is a lot of thought-provoking ideas given by Robert in this book- If you want a ride of life irrespective of your fate, just get in and enjoy the ride with love. The author came to Mumbai after escaping from a prison at Australia and then learnt Marathi in a village at Maharashtra. That made him a “Gora” [Hindi term for foreigner] speaking Marathi at Mumbai. I am sure some of the Indian political parties will be proud and they can even use Roberts as their brand purely from a linguistic perspective!! Roberts then moved on to a zhopadpatti [hindi term for slums] to treat diseased folks with basic first aid knowledge- Understood what it takes for survival for these slum-dwellers. Then joined the Mumbai underworld gang that’s known for honor- Here there is a beautiful distinction between honor and virtue!! Here is where there is a lot of underworld philosophy that laces through the book – Things that I loved here were: The cocktail mix that all powerful men have are the fact that they are afraid and are cruel. I also particularly loved the analogy of fake passport, fake ID business to “Red Queen Contest” where Alice meets the red queen who runs incredibly fast but never seems to get anywhere. She tells Alice that in her country, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. I wonder that some-times we do the same as Red Queen in our professional life. J That is a separate blog altogether.

For people who want to understand universe, good, evil, big bang theory- there is a good section where the Mafia don explains all of these interlacing with his perspective! Roberts then pledges his loyalty to that gang and then goes for an Afghan war and then comes back to rebuild the gang without the leader. In the gang, the key things that come back and back is the honor in which they conduct the business claiming to do “ the wrong things for the right reasons”. In the middle, finds his love [not fully able to express] in the Leopolds up-market international gang; Helps them out for various activities including helping a Californian girl escape Madam Zhou [ One who runs the biggest and kinky escort services in Mumbai- This part is an interesting twist] and then gets trapped in Arthur Road jail due to this. The whole story is set in the 80’s and there is a flurry of movement that makes one wonder whether it’s for real or not and how could one travel this journey!! Well, Gregory David Roberts has done it with love and compassion- Most importantly there is no hatred in the whole sequence which I loved the most!

I can go on and on with this blog as I liked everything about the book and lot of phrases has inked a part of my memory- I like to take one good statement [told by the mafia folks] from the book, “Fate always gives you 2 choices- one you should take and one you should do”. I think it’s the same for this book- Every book store gives you 2 choices- one you should buy and one you should read. Howz that to end this blog?? :-))

1 comment:

Varun said...

Shantaram is easily the best fiction I have read in a long, long time. I'm not sure if Johnny Depp will do justice to the role, though. However, given the fact that Amitabh is slated to essay the role of Khader Bhai, its fascinating to link the description that Roberts gives about Khader during his introduction to Amitabh's attributes. Bachchan is sure to rock in this role!