the most beautiful thing: shantaram
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realized, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.” ~ Gregory David Roberts from Shantaram
Tonight, the beauty of the book ends. And with the ending, a memory of the trip through Bombay (Mumbai) with Shantaram (aka Linbaba) remains. This book wove me in and out of the slums, streets, and hangouts of Bombay, the scenes so vivid and emotions of the characters so piercing, I found myself walking the moods of the chapters through my days and looking forward to the pre-bedtime rendezvous with its characters. To see Prabaker’s smile again and again in my mind’s eye, to practically smell Karla’s Coco, to reflexively wince with the strikes and blows to Lin’s battered body and broken heart, and to hear the shrieks of children and the melodies of Bollywood lovesongs in my dreams, and to travel through the inner journey of the novel’s moving and insightful protagonist, Shantaram, was worth every one of its 933 pages. In fact, in many ways it was a life-saver during these weeks, a particularly challenging time for your heart and mind. Hard times call for good friends, and in a way this book became to me just that.
Shantaram has kept me company over these last nearly four weeks in a way few books do. I loved the people Roberts talked about. I loved them. And I fell in love with the place. I see there is a movie in the works starring Johnny Depp. Though I (and many of you, I know) shy a bit from film versions of beloved books in fear of their utter failure (case in point: Mysts of Avalon), but at least they may have gotten the lead right. I think Depp’s thoughtful, even brooding delivery may be the perfect fit for Roberts, though I imagine this man much scrappier in body. Funny, the image I have had in my head of Kaderbai, another of the novel’s key roles, this whole time is that of a thin Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood film star cast in the role. I have high hopes, but one of those hopes admittedly is to protect the gorgeous faces I have in my head from their screen counterparts, to hold with me the beauty that has walked me to sleep night after night, soothing my own sorrows, and adding splashes of color to so many dark moments.
I’m so thankful to have been given this good friend of a book by another dear dear friend, Nichole. Thanks for the added beauty to my life, Nic.
Image by Greta Gabor.