This book came highly reviewed by some very good friends and I could not wait to start on it.
A lot of times, when I start a book with high expectations, I end up disappointed. In this case, I am so delighted to say, that I was blown away by the book. Influenced by real life events in the life of the author, is an amazing read. Convicted in Australia, for a series of armed robberies, Gregory David Roberts, escaped from prison and travelled to Mumbai, on a fake passport, on his way to Germany. What was supposed to be a stopover, turned into a much longer stay, as he felt instantly at home in the city.
Using his fake name, Lindsay, he gets called Lin or Lin Baba by a guide Prabakar, who then takes him on a tour of Mumbai. Prabakar takes him to places where he would have never taken another foreigner, because he feels that Lin would be able to absorb it all in. Prabakar is somebody Lin instinctively trusts. As the trust and love between the men grow, Prabakar invites him to his village, where he is greeted with love and affection by Prabakar’s family. Prabakar’s mother bestows the name ‘Shantaram’ on him.
On the way back, Lin and Prabakar are robbed and Prabakar uses his contacts in the slum that he lives in to provide Lin with a place to stay there. Lin ends up living there and becoming a doctor to the inhabitants of the slum, which in turn brings him in contact with the don, Khaderbhai, who owns the slums. Slowly he gets involved in other less charitable activities with the don. Alongside of all this, he picks up Marathi and Hindi and makes some very good friends, who he could trust wholeheartedly. As he says in the book, his loyalty was not to the organisation but to the people in it. He came to revere Abdel Khader Khan(Khaderbhai) as a father. He would do anything for the people who he considered his own. He followed Khaderbhai to Afghanistan where the don was smuggling arms and ammunition to the mujahideen fighters. There Khaderbhai gets killed which has a very profound effect on Lin. Lin’s concept of honour amongst thieves is brought out well by the decisions he takes in various situations. Most of the incidents narrated are very moving despite the violence that is an integral part of the book. Another extremely impressive thing is how well Lin blends into Bombay. As he tells a cab driver, ‘The face might be white, but he is all ‘Hindustani’ inside’.
The story is not without a romantic angle. Early in the book, when he had just reached Bombay, he met the mysterious Karla Sarenson, a Swiss-American woman who refused to reciprocate his love. His love for her, is a thread running through the book.
It was such a voluminous book, and yet I just wanted it to go on and on. The narrative keeps you engaged and wanting for more until the very last line. It is a book that I will definitely read, and re-read. It was for me, a 5/5 book.