Friday, May 23, 2014

On Reading Shantaram

On a recent flight from Mumbai to Jaipur, a book had found its way in to my life. On reaching the airport I find out, that the flight had been delayed for four hours. Luckily I had a friend to keep me company.
The book was Gregory David Roberts', 'Shantaram'.

After reading Vikram Chandra’s ‘Sacred Games’, I knew I had a certain liking for fictional books with characters based in urban cities. Shantaram was a book that constantly came up in conversations in the past few months. 

I was also fortunate enough to listen to Gregory David Roberts at the India Non Fiction Festival in June 2013. And I knew then and there that 'Shantaram' was a book I was going to read soon.

About the book 

Reading Shataram was like living the life of the author over again. In those four hours, Gregory David Roberts took me through his life journey from the early 80’s. 

This included being an armed robber and heroin addict, escaping from an Australian prison and then coming to Mumbai to live in a Slum there. He then established a free health clinic, joined the mafia and worked as a money launderer to make ends meet. 

His description of life in the Mumbai Slum was quite an eye-opener for me personally about life beyond the confines of my comfortable flat in Mumbai.

He also finds a way to work in a Bollywood film and fought with the Mujahideen in Afganistan. The Sunday Times described the book as a publishing phenomenon. But for me what was really powerful about the book, was how honestly Gregory David Roberts described his story. I connected with his soul as I read the book. I became his friend. It was like I went through that journey with him all over again.

Why we all can possess genius

There were so many lessons I learned from the book. Even though society branded Gregory a criminal, he was still a good human being within. There really is no good or bad person, because we cannot always be good or bad. Our everyday deeds are what are good or bad and we are in control of those actions.

As Ayelet Waldman the author of Crossing the Park writes in her review about the book, “Shantaram is dazzling. More importantly, it offers a lesson… that those we incarcerate are human beings. They deserve to be treated with dignity. Some of them, after all may be exceptional. Some may even possess genius”

Can we learn from fiction?

There is so much fiction can teach us. It hit me then that if one book could have such an impact on me. What if I read all the classics, with the stories of the great characters they told. Every culture has its literature and all this literature combined together tells part of the human story. 

The book took me through love, failure, betrayal, human needs, acceptance, hate, crime, punishment, longing, loneliness, philosophy, culture, compassion all in one read. 

No course in the world could give me such a varied learning experience. Sitting on the stairs of the departure lounge at the Mumbai Airport, I got to live the life of Shantaram with all its ups and downs. As these thoughts went through my head, I heard another announcement. 

‘All passengers on the flight to Jaipur are requested to approach the boarding gate as the flight is ready for departure'

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