My story of this story began eight years before I even went to India.
Shantaram is a novel, inspired by true events, that tells the story of the author’s incredible life starting with an almost unbelievable escape from a prison in Australia to him trying to build some sort of a life in the slums of Mumbai. He weaves heartbreakingly beautiful prose against the backdrop of some of the world’s worst living conditions. Weighing just under 1,000 pages it is safe to call this book an epic.
“The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There’s nowhere else in the world where that’s quite so true.” – Shantaram
The book was given to me as a birthday present as inspiration for my upcoming first trip to India and with the quote above you can see why. Sounds a pretty boring blog post though, right? Boy meets book, boy reads book, the end. If only it were that simple…..
The first copy survived about six months.
It was dutifully packed to come to India with me and travelled around with me where ever I went; from city to town, town to village, country to country. That was until I left India for Nepal, clearly it didn’t like me taking it out of it’s home country. I had just arrived in Nepal after a 24 hour bus journey and unpacked the necessary things you need after having sat on a bus from Delhi to Kathmandu; soap, soap and more soap. Finding the room to not have hot water we changed rooms and with it Shantaram was lost. I don’t know how it escaped me but some lucky person who took that room after we left got a free book and bookmark photo of my family, which I really hope they didn’t keep…
The second copy lies somewhere in the desert of Afghanistan.
Having only read about 200 of its umpteen pages from the first copy I decided to buy myself a new copy about two years after getting back from India. That should have been the end of this story as there were no perils for books in the wilderness of Durham. However, just before my brother was due to be posted out to Afghanistan he realised that he was low on books and with not a paged turned in anger by me off Shantaram went to fight. There the brave book stayed as once read it was passed on to the next soldier and the next where I hope it will live out it’s days.
The third copy came and went in an instant.
Having booked a trip back to India about a year later I decided to buy another copy hoping this really was third time lucky. Long story short; it got tossed out of a moving car by a rather eccentric Frenchman.
Now we come to today and copy four.
When the lady at the bookshop saw what I was buying she told me that when the author was eventually tracked down by the Australian authorities and put back in jail he tried to write the story and had his manuscript destroyed many times by the prison guards. I chuckled to myself (like a crazy person) as it gave me some strange higher connection to the story now, as if I too was reliving that part of his life through the loss of my copies.
Solace or not I will be so glad when I can put it on my bookshelf, whenever that happens….
I’ve done it! After many years and many editions last night at bang on the stoke of midnight I turned the final page of that wonderful book. With somewhat a heavy heart I can now scratch that off my bucket list. The reason I’m sad its over is simply because it was an incredible read, like reading my own echoes, and I didn’t want it to end.