Author – Gregory David Roberts. It is essentially an autobiographical piece of work, but parts of it are reportedly fiction as well.
One word summary for this extraordinary read would be ‘vivid’! Shantaram is by no means ordinary. Its an epic. Its full of excessive details. The gorgeous language, undoubtedly, is the biggest strength of the book. Potent, lyrical, richly philosophical, the prose resonates with one and all the highs and lows of the multi-faceted plot.
Never have I even visualised to the extent the details and description of people, places and daily experiences that this book gives so much space to. The metaphorical comparisons, rich details and enriching experiences, encaptures and enforces mind to visualise and live the moment in the narration. The plot is powerful enough to make you grasp for breath and complex enough to twist your mind.
Narrated by an escaped convict, who flees from a maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. He finds comfort in the society some of which is ‘hidden in plain sight’ i.e. the society and life of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries. He seek in this remarkable place what he cannot find elsewhere i.e love and identity. The neglect of this society by the ‘larger world’ allows him to find his space and place. It starts as the life story of a fugitive from Australian prison who goes on to become a mumbaikar, a slum dweller, a doctor, a prisoner, a missionary soldier and a mafia don!!
First hand life experience from the point of view of a fugitive and his life in the criminal under belly of Mumbai Mafia, gives immense insights about the ‘principled’ approach to crime! Against the regular, lawful and righteousness of the ways and means, Shantaram is about survival. Its about crime, its about friends, its about love, its about revenge. It’s about needs, livelihood, shelter, struggle, challenges, about existence and lastly its about everything, everything in the world! Shantaram is about love of mankind, love of friends, love of a woman, love of a country, love of a city, love of an adversary, love of a way of life, love of a people, love of adventures, love of a father and love for ourself.
Deep insights, philosophical musings and titbits of wisdom are the best part of the book. Some of it explain about the very far fetched and scientific idea about the universe and idea of God in it, emphasising on humanity as a whole rather than religious interpretation of the idea of God.
The interpretation, involvement and insides from the viewpoint of a foreigner about Indian ways, customs, methods and ways, provides not only an objective standpoint but is also an eye opener in many ways! It portrays India that very few Indians know about. This huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart.
The biggest flaw if any in this book is: its huge length(940 pages)! After such a long read we expect a sort of ending that would conclude things, but I found that missing.
Why should you read it? Because it provides a life changing experience, rather its about life itself!
Why should you not read it? Its too huge my friend and not a page turner!
PS – Don’t let the 900 pages scare you!