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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

2 Votes | Average: 3 out of 52 Votes | Average: 3 out of 52 Votes | Average: 3 out of 52 Votes | Average: 3 out of 52 Votes | Average: 3 out of 5 (2 votes, average: 3 out of 5)
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If you are entering a bookshop or library anytime soon, don’t miss this fat green book with an emerging horizon of dull crimson on the front page. This is one of those rare books that are impossibly thick to look at and impossibly hard to abandon in mid-read. While Shantaram is very different from the thriller or pot-boiler whose pages you compulsively have to keep turning, it is a story that grips you from beginning to end, and makes you take a visceral look at life, with warmth, compassion and genuine wisdom.

Gregory David Roberts really lived the life of a fugitive criminal, and Shantaram is therefore a fictionalized account of his own life. It is the story of a man who has escaped from an Australian jail and arrived in India on a fake New Zealand passport. Never having encountered anything like Mumbai, the first sights, sounds and smells of this place appear bewildering and bizarre to him, till he discerns how much he is actually liking what he sees. He befriends a tourist-guide-cum-taxi-driver called Prabhakar, who shows him around and finds him a room (a hut, really) to stay in a slum.

What the runaway Australian goes through in this unlikely place forms the rest of the story. His slum neighbours, who find it difficult to remember his Western name, christen him ‘Shantaram’, or the peaceful one. He finds it truly amazing that they should thus regard someone who has always been full of anger and confusion and violence. Selling drugs to tourists, the Australian is drawn into criminal encounters, picked up and tortured by the Mumbai police, and survives everything only to have an abiding love for the city and the people who brought him back to life. As a novel about India written by a foreigner, Shantaram is uniquely in a class of its own. There is none of the usual condescension, or any attempt to over-analyze. After the first few attempts to record what an average Westerner does probably think about the seething chaos of India, The narrator of Shantaram just settles into ‘living’ the whole experience.

And with him, so do we readers. A runaway criminal opens a clinic in a slum and learns Hindi and Marathi to communicate with his ‘patients’. We learn about Arthur Road prison from the inside, not from newspaper reports, and about rats that are the size of cats and form the nightly underbelly of Bombay. There is enough entertainment in this novel – complete with mysterious woman lover, lovable characters, moments of great insight and emotion, to form a Bollywood film. Little wonder then that the book is already being made into a Hollywood film with Johnny Depp playing the lead.

While in real life Gregory David Roberts was finally caught and extradited to Australia where he served his term before turning into a best-selling author, the fictional Shantaram leaves us with a sense of the immense potential of life, and how we can make the most of any situation we are in, in the most unlikely ways. Why should a foreigner care about whether people in Mumbai slums receive health care? And yet, this one does. Why should we find a tale by a criminal and self-confessed drug dealer and gun-runner so instructive in a moral sense? And yet, we do.

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Responses to Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

  1. 1 La Roche

    Thank you for writing about this book. will get to reading it right away!

  2. 2 maddy

    yo! like the book the guy 2 is gr8. me a mumbaikar workin 4 a hotel. he comes to our place his bullet & also talks in hindi…. all the best him..

  3. 3 swravikumar


    Thanks for introducing Shantaram and by the intoduction given i just feel like grab the right away and settle in cosy environment and start reading and i promise i will do so in the first oppurunity good introduction

  4. 4 saahir

    Well…I did start reading that book..but after going up to quarter of that book I couldnt continue. Yes ,u dont always come across such fascinating life stories,but to me, If the writers life was actionpacked like Roberts..this does not necessarily make him a good writer.
    Firstly, all those experiences in India..and his association with Indians..this may be be interesting for foreigners but to an Indian reader all this sounds ‘cliche’
    He is so verbose sometimes…i think he could have given all he has to say in much less no.of pages.

  1. 1 Vanessa Minnillo

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