This novel by Gregory David Roberts is the story of a foreigner, an escapee from a high security prison who makes a fresh beginning in India. Considered to be loosely autobiographical, the novel traces his life in India.
Firstly the one thing that stands out is the author’s lyrical quality of prose and his profound love for words. It’s mesmerizing and rich in philosophical anecdotes and before you realize it you get trapped in the web of his words.
Ok it’s a thick book to begin with and may be a little too intimidating for beginners. But readers, who get past their initial inhibitions, will reap rich rewards for their efforts. His story telling is lucid and free flowing and makes you hang on to the very last of the 900 odd pages. And as you finally finish the last few pages there is a twinge of remorse in your heart that it’s all over and all you can wish for is to follow Shantaram’s journey even after the book ends. That’s how fascinating his journey is. In the ten years that he spends in India he finds love, loses love, lives in a slum, runs a health clinic, gets beaten up in a jail, dabbles in drugs and philosophical discussions and even fights a war for the mujahideen. Not to forget his stint in India’s Bollywood.Our protagonist manages it all. What he manages to do in ten years, the wide array of things he tries out in those few years ,people usually fail to do in an entire whole time.
It might appear to be too heroic and even slightly unrealistic but Roberts manages to pull it off .All of it would appear to be jarringly contrived, if it wasn’t for the realistic portrayal.Robert’s potrayl of Mumbai, its crowded streets and the underworld is extremely vivid. It transports you through time and space to a land called India, a land where according to him the “heart is the king” . Shantaram makes you rediscover India through the eyes of a foreigner. Though an Australian by birth, it is India where he finally feels at home. India and its Indian ways mould him, redeem him and give him an altogether new perspective in life. After a visit to a village, he is dubbed Shantaram, meaning “the man of peace” and it’s his stay in India which helps him attain peace. Shantaram is about being hopeful, its about letting go of your past, its about the world and its many possibilities,it’s about our ability to touch the lives of people around us .