Saturday, January 27, 2007

Shantaram: a memoir or novel?

By John Cheeran
Shantaram, a memoir or novel, could have been written only by a junkie.
As the blurb claims author Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin-addict, escaped from an Austalian prison to India, where he went through a series of adventures. Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashes his first two versions. There is no doubt that Shantaram is a profound tribute to Robert’s willpower.
The book is a tortured soul’s bleatings and the purple prose that is poured on to the pages often makes one wonder about the artfulness of it all.
How much of the 933 pages are memoirs or fiction is question left unanswered by the author.
Undoubtedly, Shantaram offers an interesting ride through Indian reality and I should say I enjoyed, most of it.
I was somehow unaware of the enormous popularity this book enjoyed in India and could read it only now.
Shantaram is a tribute to all things Indian and especially to that hellhole on earth, Mumbai.
As Roberts writes “In the end I realized that it was heart, the Indian heart that Vikram talked about – the land where heart is king – that held me when so many intuitions told me I should leave. And the heart, for me, was the city. Bombay. They city had seduced me. I was in love with her. There was a part of me that she invented, and that only existed because I lived there, within her, as a Mumbaikar, a Bombayite.”
Words come so easily to Roberts and in a writer it is a quality that should be abhorred. Roberts loses himself in a monsoon of adjectives whenever he attempts to describe his muse, Karla.
Roberts, hemmed in by circumstances, learned Marathi and Hindi but even then could not escape portraying
each sari he notices as silk.
Though spread over 933 pages, Roberts has little to say as a writer except putting forward the so-called Resolution Theory and giving an almost day-by day account of his time in India.
Roberts trained to be a writer and has spent a large part of his life getting incarcerated in prisons in Australia and India. That, indeed, is a dangerous mix to produce bestsellers.
Shantaram happened during the early 1980s in Mumbai. Afghanistan had a different tormentor in Russia.
Reader cannot miss the glorification of jihad by Roberts, a jihad orchestrated by Abdul Khader Khan, whom the narrator venerates as his father.
It shows how naïve Shantaram has been despite Mumbai and India.


Mosilager said...

I saw Greg Roberts being interviewed - he said the major incidents are all true.

I liked his writing for the most part - I could picture the events he described in my head, which is my definition of a good writer.

kat said...

i enjoyed shantaram very much, and in response to Mr Cheeran's comment, i don't believe that there is such a thing as a dangerous combination for a writer, however or wherever their ideas stem from is irrelevant to the interest they may trigger by the telling of their story.
Also Mr Cheeran, you say that this story could only be written by a junkie like thats a bad thing, if some thing as beautiful as shantaram can come forth from such a negative experience as heroin addiction, is that not a positive thing?

shantala said...

I think Shantaram is the story of a person who lived his life with an intensity that we rarely come across.There is a very refreshing honesty about all that he did and more importantly an intelligent assimilation of all his experiences which in itself speaks about his moral fibre and intellectual acumen.Whether he went in to a song of adjectives about his muse or not,I think he did a scintillating job of being inspired and inspiring others. Shantaram is a tangible experience of that allusive concept of ACTIVE GOODNESS in this world.

John Cheeran at Blogged