“Every human heartbeat is a universe of possibilities.”
Roberts’ extraordinary adventure begins when he escapes from an Australian prison in the early 80s and skedaddles to Bombay. His long-term residency at the India Guesthouse and partnership with the charmingly chirpy Indian tour guide, Prabaker, enables the newly dubbed “Linbaba” to immerse himself in the culture and learn the ropes. A truly beautiful friendship blossoms between the two men, and Lin joins Prabaker in Sunder Village for a spell of six months to further his education of the Indian way of life. Bidding farewell to the village, he winds up in the Colaba Hutments. As a slum-dweller in the Zhopadpatis, Lin sets up a free health clinic and spends his days there helping anyone who comes a’knocking. Thanks to his inner social circle, Lin experiences various culture shocks and wonders, such as the `Standing Babas’, the `Blind Singers’, Kano the Bear, and black market dealings via a congregation of Lepers. He soon becomes accustomed to the Bombay underground. Abdul Khader Khan becomes the father he never had and the bond cements his initiation into the Mafia. Having done everything from acting in Bollywood to a torture spell in the Arthur Road lock up, Lin then ends up in Afghanistan, fighting with the Mujahedeen against the Russians; finally learning that “sometimes you have to surrender before you win”.
Shantaram is a beautifully told heart-aching and extraordinary story. Simply put; Roberts is a storytelling genius. The writing is powerful and gripping. You’ll get though the nine hundred pages in no time at all. It’s one of those books where you start reading and the next minute it’s three in the morning. Follow the twists and turns of this real life story; this honest account of a soul searching journey is one you won’t have heard before, and you’ll understand a little more about making “the wrong decision for the right reasons”, and vice versa. With every page turned, you’ll experience the light and the darkness of this man’s life. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry.
Shantaram paints a picture of various societies, and colours these cultures several shades darker; you can practically taste the Indian air. Human emotions are unapologetically explored to the full and there is a willing sense of multidimensionality to every message conveyed, and every theme communicated. There’s no such thing as `black and white’ in this book, no easy escapes, no option to be lazy. Roberts digs deeper into the realms of being most of us are unfamiliar with and unashamedly exposes the raw truth; the good, the bad, the ugly, the unfathomable – and all facets and complexities of the human heart. By all means, it is a love story, but one that breaks convention. The lyricism in the language boldly communicates the themes of love, loss, redemption, faith, truth and humanity.
Despite the suffering and hardship, Lin’s adventure has sparked a flame of longing within me to go travelling and to experience everything life has to offer (within reason – I’ll pass on the torture). One can only learn a lesson if one is part of the class after all. You can’t look in from the periphery and expect to understand the inevitable epiphanies these individuals experience. You can’t learn life’s lessons from a distance. Saying that, Shantaram will definitely open your mind, prod at your heart, and awaken your soul.