Sunday, June 6, 2010

Shantaram - My Review

      Being an obsessive, compulsive reader, I have spent a sizeable chunk of my life and a good part of my income buying books, reading and re-reading them. I hate buying books off second hand stores and I hate buying pirated versions. It has been my principle to buy original books. A book is more than just a product to be sold in the market. A lot of toil and soul goes into writing a book and I find it almost inhuman to even entertain the thought of depriving the writer a monetary gain that he/she so rightly deserves.
       I never pick my book based on popular opinion. I prefer taking my chance. If the book turns out to be boring, ah well, big deal. But on the other hand, if a book turns out to be a delightful read, it’s worth the investment of money and time. Right now, I have quite an impressive collection of books. I intend to hand them down as an heirloom :) In an age where even weddings happen online, I am not sure how much the future generation would appreciate a truckload of yellowed books, but I sure do intend to give it a try.
      I have been reading up English Classics of late and I am loving it. Today, having just read a very impressive page from one of the English Classics, I felt that the book actually struck a chord somewhere. Feeling weirdly emotional, I went back in time to dig out the last time when I felt so absolutely taken over by a book. And just then, a line crossed my mind.
               “Luck is what happens to you when fate gets tired of waiting.”
       That line, that simple yet profound line has stayed with me, even years after I read it in one of the books that has influenced my life in such a big way, that I cannot even begin to explain. I cannot point out a trait and say “ Look, this is what I learnt from that book”. But, many a decision and many a bitter moment in my life have been passed through just from the sheer strength that I derived from reading this masterpiece. This line is but one of the many treasures that lay hidden in one of best written books of the century, “Shantaram”.
       Shantaram is almost an epic. If you are the kind who looks for popcorn entertainment, twists and turns and happy endings and sugary romance, Shantaram is not for you. Shantaram is a journey, a timeless travel into life, full of learning , pain, love and a myriad other emotions. After having completed reading the book, I remember clutching it to my heart and kissing it. That is how much I love that book. I cannot assure that you will go through the same emotions after having read it. Experiences vary from person to person. But what I can assure you is that the book will not disappoint you. At any level !
      The title may lead you into thinking that the book is about an Indian man. Yes, the novel is set in India. But the main protagonist of the story is an Australian prisoner who escapes from his 19 years of sentence in an Australian prison and ends up in India on a fake passport. Destiny brings him to Bombay ( Mumbai) and he meets Prabhakar, his humble Indian taxi driver friend who gives him shelter in a filthy slum in Bombay, away from the eyes of the law. Lindsay the Australian, goes on to be Linbaba in the slum and later in life, he becomes “Shantaram” when Prabhakar’s mother calls him that during his stay at the tiny village tuck away in rural Maharashtra. “ Shantaram” transalates to mean “ The Peaceful man”. But the entire book revolves around pain, crime, disease, death, drugs and a very poignant, profound and alluring definition of love.
      I do not intend to dissect and explain the story. But just believe me when I say it, time will just flow by while you read the book. It makes you wonder, it makes you cry, it makes you smile with tears flowing down your cheeks, it makes you want to go hold Lindsay’s hand and live his wretched life in the slum, it makes you say prayers for him and it makes you want to take the next flight to Bombay. Inspite of being written quite some time back, the book is relevant to this day and each night I went to sleep after having read a part of Shantaram, in a very strange way, I felt as if the events in the book were happening during my lifetime, right now in Bombay. That is how livid and tangible the events are. You know a book is good when you begin to be a part of it.
       Lin is a struggler, trying to make through life by peddling drugs and getting involved in counterfeit and crime. And yet, you will love him. He is no hero. He is a normal human who succumbs to pressure, cries out in pain, yearns to be loved and has his own failures to deal with. He is an anti-hero. In spite of his unromantic, drab, glamour-deprived life, as he ploughs through his days in Bombay, finding himself involving with thugs and murderers, you will push aside all the negativity and turn the pages to move with him. Twined into the narration, is a wealth of wisdom, surreptitiously intertwined with the story that just hits you the first time you read it. There have been many moments in the book when I turned the pages backward and re-read sections that I absolutely loved.
      Linbaba, Prabhakar, Didier,Karla,Abdullah,Abdel Khader Khan and the other characters of the book will take you through a sojourn that is almost spiritually enlightening. And yet there is nothing religious or spiritual about the story. There are no Godmen who will tell you about life, but there are marvellous moments in the story that will simply explain life to you in terms that you will immediately grasp. And terms that will stay with you for a lifetime.
      Being an Indian, I know my country well. So when Linbaba stays at Prabhakar’s village, or when he talks about the slums in Bombay, the construction sites, the poverty, the foreigners who give up their lives in their own countries and settle down in Bombay, peddling drugs and becoming a part of the local crime gang, I can totally relate to what he says. Being used to viewing my country through my own eyes, when Shantaram, a foreigner describes it for me, the picture of my country in general and Bombay in particular comes out as clear as a painting. The streets and gullies of Bombay, The Haji Ali Mosque, the beaches of Bombay and the Leopold Cafe are all real life landmarks in the wonderful city. And as Shantaram brings them into his story, the Bombay I have known, was shown to me in newer light. There is a certain romantic inclination for ths city and its filth. Such is the essential involvement of Bombay in Shantaram that even after all these years, I still remember Bombay as the place where Lindsay the Australian became Shantaram.
       Through his epic book, Gregory David Roberts brings to life, many moments from his own life. After having googled him out and read about him, Shantaram almost sounded like Roberts’ own autobiography. Read about his life and you will know what I mean. I could not help but draw parallels between Roberts’ life and his alter-ego Shantaram’s. For one, Roberts’ was a prisoner in an Australian jail before he began writing Shantaram :)
       If you are in the mood for aching hands and sleepless nights, Shantaram is just the thing for you! The book runs into 900 + pages and all the ”flipping back to re-read” moments will further add to the time that you will take to finish it :) Nevertleless, it is worth every hour of sleep that you will lose over it. I highly recommend this book as a must read. Take my word. You will love it !
       I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book. This should do enough to get you into buying an original copy of the book. :) Read on...

“Men reveal what they think when they look away, and what they feel when they hesitate. With women, it’s the other way around.”
“Every virtuous act has some dark secret in its heart; every risk we take contains a mystery that can’t be solved.”

“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread instead is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they are dead and gone.”

“A dream is a place where a wish and a fear meet. When the wish and fear are exactly the same, we call the dream a nightmare.”

“The past reflects eternally between two mirrors -the bright mirror of words and deeds, and the dark one, full of things we didn't do or say.”

“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 be in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”

“The tendency towards complexity has carried the universe from almost perfect simplicity to the kind of complexity that we see around us, everywhere we look. The universe is always doing this. It is always moving from the simple to the complex. “

“I dont know what frightens me more, the power that crushes us, or our endless ability to endure it”.

“Truth is a bully that we all pretend to like”.

If this review translates into 2 more Shantarams getting sold, my job is done :) Thanks for reading!


  1. 'Shantaram' is a book, I recommend to anyone who asks me for one. Most people look at the sheer volume and give it a skip, inspite of my entreaties to atleast give the first few pages a dekko. I just shrug at their loss. The few who do read it wax eloquent, and turn into pro-Shantaram crusaders. It is hard to imagine this book not making a life-changing impression on anyone who reads it. Wonderfully written review,Pavithra, and one that I am sure will inspire my Shantaram-ignorant friends to read the book.

  2. Thanks Ashok! I almost knew it for a fact that you would have read this already :) I coaxed four of my book-lover friends into reading Shantaram..I lent them my book and I got 4 super coffees in return :D

  3. Great..more importantly, make sure you get the book back. I had lent it to a friend and it made such an indelible impression on him, he forgot other minor and mundane things in life, like, who lent him the book for instance. :-)

  4. Oh I sure do take care of that! Plus, I warn them not to return my book with dog-ears :P So far so good :)

  5. I love the way you describe books, and I feel the exact same way! I have shelves of books and hate the idea of getting a kindle (or any other portable reading device). I like to hold my books and feel them and flip the pages; and I will be passing down quite a few myself! :)

  6. Thanks S.I.F! I am now in the process of converting one of my younger book-loving cousins into an obsessive,compulsive reader..Hopefully,he will be the heir to my collection and will appreciate it as much as I do :)

  7. Your blog is cool. To gain more visitors to your blog submit your posts at

  8. I'm excited to try this book out. I needed something to read when I finish the book I'm working on now (Alias Grace), and I've put this at the top of my list!

  9. @laidymondegreen : Yes! This book surely deserves a "top of the list" position :) Do let me know your views after you are done reading..Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did

  10. Hi Pavithra, greetings from Jakarta, Indonesia! the review is great, and i think im gonna put this one on my '100 books to read in 365 days project' {take a visit to my blog for further infos! you can make one list, too! :D} i love reading too, but i prefer buy used books than the new ones since i support saving trees and earth! but anyway, your reason is real. go with it, lady!
    oh ya, i also subscribe your blog to read more about your thougts, isn't it nice? :) can't wait to read more...


  11. Hi Mezo!

    Greetings from Bangalore,India! :) And I love the fact that you have chosen to read this book. I am heading to your blog right away and I am sure thinking of coming up with my own list too!

    It is such a noble thought to buy used books so that you can help save trees :) I am a big recycle fan and I make sure to do my very best when it comes to environmental conservation :) I passed out from college as an environmental engineer :D But fresh,new,sweet-smelling books are my weakness and I just cant seem to give up this little fancy for new books..So I go ahead and indulge in it :)

    Thanks for subscribing to my blog! Hope you will enjoy reading it!

  12. hey, wow, this is one of my fav books too. I had written a review of this book sometime back, link below

  13. Hey Sitaram..Read your review just now! Loved it :) I see that you wrote the review in 2007! :)Great!

  14. This sounds awesome! I'm putting it on my reading list.

  15. Wow Deans! Thanks for reading down till here :)

  16. i ain't a great reader but will give it a shot

  17. @CoolNuke : I am sure the sheer volume of the book will scare you away if you dont read much ;) Try and get to the last's worth it! :)

  18. I'm writing my college essay on how "Shantaram" changed the way i perceive the world and your review helped me clear my thoughts to begin.
    thank u :)

  19. Hello,
    A comment from a frenchie: Shantaram was a Christmas present from my husband, who knows that I like to read books in english and books about India, a country which I don't know yet but that fascinates me, the more because i've an adopted son( born in France but from indian origin). In a few days i've already read the first part and was captivated. I found your impression on the book quite interesting, Pavithra, because I was wondering what an Indian reader would think of it. And it's a big tribute you make to the novel when you write that it showed Bombay to you "in a newer light". Thank you for your review , and i'll come back to your blog, which seems very interesting.

  20. Hi Pascale,

    I am truly glad that you enjoyed reading the review of Shantaram :) Good to know that your son is from India! Adoption is something that is close to my heart and I hope to adopt a child some day too ! :)

    Make a trip to India sometime...I am sure you will love our country..I am a big fan of French food and wine..ha ha :D

    Please do visit my blog!



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