In the beginning of March, when Covid 19 had not become a phenomenon yet, I bought this bestselling book on suggestion of my spouse. He read this book when he was young and it left an impression on his mind so deep, that he has been constantly nudging me to read it once.
So when the lockdown began and I had ample time to stay at home, it was indeed a good thing that I bought this thick read. I sat in peace with coffee & kindle, slowly reading through 1000 pages of the book – “Shantaram”
When I heard the name of this book, I thought it was written by an Indian author (coz its name sounded so Indian). But, I was mistaken as the writer is actually Australian. Gregory David (the author) was once a convict in an Australian prison. He escaped the prison and somehow ended up living in Mumbai, one of the largest cities in India. Here he took refuge in a slum as he had no money and no belongings.
He starts a humble life in a slum but eventually joins a mafia gang and becomes a criminal. He makes some friends in this journey who love him, leave him and perhaps also manipulate him. You would gradually see his mental transformation as he lives through all of it. You would also notice how it changes him and makes him almost one of them.
In this book, the author narrates what he saw, experienced and lived through in the streets of Mumbai. While most books end up boasting the cultural side of India, this book unravels difficult, brutal and sometimes repelling side of this country. The story is so eventful and gripping that it almost feels like a movie. I remember reading the first half of this book in just two weeks.
Being an Indian, I thought I knew a lot about India, people and their livelihood in general. But I realize now that as a middle class citizen, I was probably too comfortable and ignorant to witness what the massive population of this country lives through on daily basis. I crawled through the last 400 pages of this book,trying to sink in each scene & its description. The details around black market, life in slum, mafia operation and the Afghan war look so realistic that it was hard to believe why the author puts this book in fiction category. I think it might be because he likes to disassociate himself from the doings he describes!
Anyhow, in a nutshell, I will recommend this book to (at least) other Indians as I’m sure it would give a good perspective of the uglier side of India. A warning though – you need to be open minded to read and appreciate this book. While media, television and most Indian expats promote culture, yoga and Indian food, this book does a decent job describing how life really looks like for more than 60 million people in India.
If you are an adventurer, planning a trip to India, you might as well like to give this book a try. Just don’t be scared and extrapolate these experiences to your travel plan.
I’m glad to have finally finished reading this book yesterday! 🙂
© Copyright 2020. Megha Gupta. All rights reserved.