Monday, August 29, 2011

Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts

I'll start by saying that Shantaram is a wonder of a book. There's nothing like a good huge book to indulge in. Absolutely nothing like it. It's so welcoming, there's an urgency that makes you read it vehemently and a satisfaction like no other.

Roughly, it's about a fugitive running away from his past, crime and heroin to the enchanting Bombay. The Bombay he falls for, where he falls in love, finds true friends, a brother and a father-figure.He begins a new life, his past always ready to haunt him. He learns so much: acceptance, forgiveness, kindness. You're amazed at the simplicity of the writing. Simple words, simple sentences and unpretentious philosophy. Yet, you're provoked by this simplicity. It's like no other. It's so effortless.

I got hooked as soon as Lin, the main character, meets Prabaker who's famous for his smile. Prabaker makes you smile, and you often catch yourself grinning at his words and goodness. I personally loved him, and started loving the book the moment he appeared. Such a genuine person. Take this quote about him for an example:
"I discovered that Prabaker believed with the whole of his heart that his smile made a difference in people's hearts and in the world. He was right, of course, but it took me a long time to understand that truth, and to accept it."
Why don't we smile readily? I know there's so much wrong with the world, and so much sadness but a smile can change a person's day. Read the quote again. Do you know such a person? A person who gives out all of his heart and soul to you in a smile? Don't think that smiling people are naive. Please don't.  There was so much about people's smiles in the book, the author is brilliant in that regard. Describing the kinds of smiles people gave you, specially the honest kind. The kind that lifts our spirits. I can honestly tell you that everytime smiling was mentioned, I was ecstatic. It was so refreshing to see the author stressing this, the simple act that doesn't get the attention it deserves.

A big book will have many characters, but there's something so unique about each of them that you can't help loving them just because Lin loves them.This is how Lin describes the woman he loves:
The clue to everything a man should love and fear in her was there, right from the start, the ironic smile that primed and swelled the archery of her full lips. There was pride in that smile, and confidence in the set of her fine nose. Without understanding why, I knew beyond question that a lot of people would mistake her pride for arrogance, and confuse her confidence with impassivity. I didn't make that mistake. My eyes were lost, swimming, floating free in the shimmering lagoon of her steady, even stare. Her eyes were large and spectacularly green. It was the green that trees are, in vivid dreams. It was the green that the sea would be, if the sea were perfect.
Apart from the fact that it's bloody perfect, the quote speaks so much about Lin, and I'll take a moment to tell you about him. I refuse to label him with words, he's a criminal but you struggle with that fact. His openness to people is just so endearing. His character, which in any other book would have been tough, dark, mysterious is the total opposite. He's open, honest, kind and he has such love for Bombay and his friends that you simply care about him so much. Too much perhaps, and he's everything I love about Shantaram. Through him, you meet so many people, through him you attend weddings, live in the slums, dance as clumsily as a foreigner in India would do, wiggle your head, smile your heart out, walk the streets of Bombay, and receive an actual bear hug. He's not an angel. He doesn't lie to himself. He's broken. He doesn't need sympathy, and he's so ready to take everything in. We're often so guarded, but he shows you that you can let your guard down, though you'll get hurt, the amount of love you're capable of will free your soul. And it's about being free isn't it? Free in every sense of the word.

I always wanted to visit India, and now I'm sort of dying to go there now. Doesn't this make you want to feel as acutely as he did about India:
The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There's nowhere else in the world where that's quite true.






There's a lot of philosophy in the book. Love, honesty, right and wrong, good and evil, religion, spirituality, wars. Details conversations discussing such topics. I was so interested in these when normally I'd have been bored. There's such truth in them, and even if you have your own notions of such concepts, or like me you're a bit on the undecided side and you can't give a ready opinion you'll agree that they offer simple wisdom that gets you thinking.

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 heart 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.


Of hope he says:

You can never tell what people have inside them until you start taking it away, one hope at a time.
 

And if you prove to a man how vain his hope is, how vain his hoping was, you kill the bright, believing part of him that wants to be loved.

We live in hope.

I'd love to elaborate on how I feel about each and every quote because to me, they're amazing. Yet, I'll leave that unsaid because you just might find beauty in them too. The simple words. Perhaps they'll talk to you like they did to me. Here are the rest:

 One of the ironies of courage, and the reason why we prize it so highly, is that we find it easier to be brave for someone else than we do for ourselves alone.

But the lies we tell ourselves are the ghosts that haunt the empty house of midnight.

The end, when it comes, is always too soon.



The only power that has any real meaning is the power to better the world.


There is no man, and no place, without war.


Read it if you feel you're ready. Take your time. Enjoy every word. I feel strongly about the book. It's like 4-5 different books in one. It's life crammed into 900 pages. It's the end being too open. The beginning being too obscure. The in-betweens so rich. The feeling you get while reading. The hope you feel. It's being transported to another lifetime. It's you entertaining the thought that 'everybody at another lifetime was an Indian'. It's the heartbreak you suffer with Lin. It's me reviewing the book till 7a.m. It's... Shantaram and all the things words will never convey.

Finally, I'd like to say that I owe it all to Ruqaiya who not only shares her books so generously with me, she knows just the kind of books I'll love. I'm blessed to know you, Rux, and I can't thank you enough for this book!!!

7 comments:

Fashionista said...

WOW Noor! Hands down the BEST book review I've read about this title. I'm beyond happy that you loved it. After a year of my constant nagging,I'm glad you actually got down to reading it cover to cover. Loved the simplicity in which you right the review almost reminiscent to Roberts' style.

Rummuser said...

Noor, I have lived in Mumbai and am very familiar with many of the places and sites that feature in the novel. Many incidents that took place also happened when I lived there and as a hard core Mumbai wallah, I can tell you there is no city like that anywhere else in the world. I don't live there anymore but the novel makes me choke with emotion everytime I re read portions of it. Yes, it is a truly magnificent book written with a lot of heart by a man who is obviously in love with that city and its people.

Noor said...

Rux, Thank you. I'm so glad you think so. I thought it incoherent but I'm glad it made sense to you. The book was brilliant and you're the absolute best I swear. <3

Rummuser, thank you for sharing your experience I'm glad that even you, who knows the city well, felt the novel honest and true. I understand what you say about it making you choke with emotion, it did for me and I'm not as attached to Bombay as you are.

Rohit said...

Read the review @ 11.25pm

Ordered the book @ 11.35pm

Need I say more? =)

"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 heart 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"

Beautiful!

Noor said...

@Rohit YAY! I'm glad I finally made you decide to give it a try. I really hope you enjoy it! :D

ibhogs said...

I love it when simple words are that powerful ..

I think I'll order the book soon isA

Noor said...

@ibhog and did you yet?