The other day, we had this debate at Toastmasters, the L&T Chapter. It was one of those topics that has been debated enough, through the centuries past, and will always be questioned for those that follow. Capital Punishment? Or Forgive and let live? I had gruesome facts and figures, but no matter what I said, my friend Gaurav stood his stand- prisons reform people. In the solitary confinement of a prison, he said, a man is condemned to live with nothing but this thoughts. He lives his past again, and withers away thinking about the future that he could have had. He craves for the love of his family, and buries himself in regret. ‘You have no idea what goes on inside their heads during those days, with nothing but stench, walls, stale food and survival instinct for company’ he told me in a low voice, with a buddhist-monk ring to it, ‘Read Shantaram’.
And soon enough, it landed on my lap- gift wrapped. I kept putting off reading it. 900 odd pages needed exclusive attention and time. I was then reading a Harold Robbins, that was followed by a couple of Arthur Haileys..and when there was absolutely nothing to read on a rainy evening, I flipped this open.
And I was hooked.
The tale is written in first person. Gregory David Roberts claims it is a true story, the grim details make you hope it is not. The title, Shantaram, is what Roberts’ friend’s mother names him when he visits a remote village in Maharashtra. Man of Peace. Though, through the entire length of the book, he goes by the name Lin. Lin baba. He is convict, a heroin addict, who escapes from prison in Australia, lands in Mumbai- and falls for the city. He lives in a slum, he starts a free clinic there, he trades in the black market, gets involved with the local mafia, fights a war in Afghanistan, stars in a Bollywood movie, attains international smuggler status, falls in love, and throughout- describes every detail with amazing clarity, that the words come alive, coming together to form motion pictures in your head.
It is ironic, I believe, after reading this book, that a gora has taught me so much about the Mumbai that I share a very special bond- it is my mum’s city and the city where I was born. Not only did I pick some more Marathi from it (I’m in the Marathi learning phase currently), I also got to know quite a bit about the people and the culture of the city. The standing babas. The mafia. Cocaine. Cold turkey. Smuggling. Love. Friendship. Death. Trust. Prisons. Black markets. Forgery. Guns. Refugees. And the value of life. How each one of us ought to be happy to simply be alive. And the gift that call the present.
You should read it to get the feel of it. It would ruin the surprise if I said more.
Through the past week, I had also been giving a few friends a very hard time, texting phrases and quotes from the book, at very odd hours, as I was reading. Some moved my heart, some made me think, some made me go- ‘THAT Is the answer!’. Some of those, for you guys:
“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised and we can never know which one is which until we've loved them, left them or fought with them.”
“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that's all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that's all we have - to hold on to tight, until the dawn.”
“We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.”
“We find it easier to be brave for someone else than we do for ourselves alone.”
“Silence is the tortured man’s revenge.”
“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.”
“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread instead is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they are dead and gone.”
“When we are young, we think suffering is something that is done to us. As we grow older, we realize that real suffering is measured by what is taken away from us.”
“Most loves are like this: your heart feels like an overcrowded life boat. First you throw pride out to keep it afloat. Then your self respect. Then your independence. After a while, you throw people out-your friends, everyone you used t know. But it still keeps sinking, and you know it’s taking you down with it.”
“People haven't stopped believing in love. They haven't stopped wanting to be in love. They just don't believe in a happy ending anymore.”
“We know who we are and define what we are by reference to the people we love and our reasons for loving them.”
The gyan overflows. But it brought me peace. a lot of it.