Four years ago I came to Mumbai for my higher studies and I felt like a tiny needle in this huge haystack. Little did I know it then that I would fall in love with this beautiful city,it’s by lanes, the buildings, the wonderful promenades, beaches and mostly the warm loving people.
It’s blue skin smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the island curry and the blood metal smell of the machines. Mumbai smells of stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak and the struggle to live and of crucial failures and loves that produce out courage.
It smells of ten thousand restaurants five thousand temples and of a hundred bazaars. And there are more smiles in the eyes on those crowded streets than in any other place I have ever known.
Mumbai has taught me a lot, and helped me live independently on my own terms as and when I have liked it. This eventually led to publishing a blog on Mumbai in the successive years, which ran for the next two years until I stopped it. I had read it earlier somewhere that Mumbai is a city and Bombay is an emotion. And Shantaram doesn’t fail to express this emotion.
Bombay has been described beautifully in each chapter, and I have come to love Mumbai more after it. It makes you fall in love with Mumbai all over again. That’s the beauty of this book. With its detailed descriptions on each and every nook and corner of the city right from the Léopold Café, to the queen’s necklace and the slums of Dharavi which gives the reader a sense of belonging to the city.
The highlight of the book is of-course how Gregory David Roberts manages to capture the emotions and the psyche of Mumbaikars and has portrayed it effectively though different characters in his novel. The author has definitely put in a lot of thought process in each and every characters soul, especially the protagonist Lindsay aka Shantaram.
It took the author thirteen years to finish Shantaram this explains the sheer size of the novel. This 900 odd paged mammoth book is rather an experience, more of a memoir of the protagonist, something sort of a diary which is ineffable and just too magical. What I particularly like about the authors style of writing is his use of metaphors. Every moment in this book has been something really gripping. It says in India sometimes you have to surrender, before you win, and from there begins the tales of Shantaram’s surrender to the people of India.
This novel is about the rise and fall of Shantaram in the Mumbai mafia, his escape from the prison back in Australia and his spiritual transformation to a man he always wanted to be and loving the women he adored the most. Shantaram is about love and the courage to embrace that love.
One of the central characters Karla has some really profound dialogues. She’s someone like Dominique Francon from fountain head. Karla is dark and shady yet charming and lovable. “Love is opposite of power. That’s why we fear it so much”- that’s what Karla used to say. Her dialogues are sharp and witty. I would rather read her dialogues twice to appreciate the sheer beauty of it.
Apart from Karla my favourite characters were Prabhakar, Abdullah and Abdel Khader Khan. Shantaram found a friend in his guide, Prabhakar, a brother in Abdullah and in Abdel Khader Khan, a father. It revolves around these relationships and how they weave eventually. I somehow could connect to this novel deeply. As they say it’s more about the journey than the destination itself, and with this book it’s similar. It has been more about the conversations and whole bunch of valuable advice which profoundly gripped me rather than the story on the whole.
Shantaram is a highly recommended read for anyone who loves fiction and philosophy and dreams of hope and love. Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that’s all we have- to hold on tight until the dawn. For so long as fate keeps us waiting, we live on.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts