“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 in 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 a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”
It was mid September when I made a trip to Coimbatore and Palakkad during my break, between Masters and job, in Bangalore. In Coimbatore, at my aunt’s place I picked up Shantaram.
had recommended this book during my last trip to Bangalore, end of 2006 and early 2007. After reading a couple of other books which I had picked up at my aunt’s place, I decided to start off with Shantaram.
The first paragraph, which I’ve quoted above, grips you and takes you on a roller coaster ride, raging through the slums of Bombay, the city’s underworld and then its a heart wringing story of love, betrayal, death, depression, the stoic revival of a soul from the depths of heroin addiction and eventually war where an entire belief system is shaken. The best thing about the book is not that it is non-fiction, but the author’s gift with words. Its almost a miracle someone as gifted with words as Gregory Roberts was put through all those experiences. The way the author reaches into his deepest thoughts and feelings and pulls out words to match them is simply astounding and makes for compelling reading. Sample this:
“One of the reasons we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help youfind them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”
When I started out reading this, I thought it was like Maximum City. However, while Maximum city was about the city of Bombay, in Shantaram the city becomes a character by itself, like a silent spectator watching the events as they unfold, but with a constant and influential presence in the background which you just cannot forget or wish away. The ending really made me feel empty as if arriving at a reluctant destination at the end of a refreshingly beautiful journey. It didn’t help that I was coming to the very end of my vacation in Bangalore at the same time.
Unlike most books dealing with love between a man and a woman, Gregory Roberts also explores and dissects the love he feels for a friend he reveres as a brother and a mentor in whom he sees a father, and the reluctant love for a child he is forced to mentor. If you thought “The Da Vinci Code” was the best book you’ve read, you’ll like the story and its pace here. But well, if you thought it was just a piece of pop-fiction trash, not meant for serious readers, you’ll end up living his experiences through his thoughts.
The book’s end is a bit abrupt, but later came to know that the author is planning a sequel or rather has almost finished penning the remaining of his experiences in Bombay.
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