Posts Tagged ‘Shantaram’


Shantaram, the first novel by Gregory David Roberts, has been thrust at us by every expat or traveling gora we’ve met since arriving here. They love it or they hate it, but they all insist we read the story.

Shantaram is almost a thousand pages long and I’ve just finished reading it. Despite the implied mysticism of its title, it is no incense-and-enlightenment hippie tome: it’s a rollicking good ride, a sweeping, quasi-autobiographical slice of contemporary India as seen through the eyes of an escaped Australian prison convict hiding out in the slums of Mumbai. And that’s just how the story begins.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, but even setting the action and character-driven plot aside, it’s easy to see why this is such a popular piece among travelers here. Every page is written with the authority of someone who has been here for a very long time and has every detail just right. Roberts’ prose validates our moments of insanity and insight, illuminates everyday opaque phenomena, and prepares us for eventualities we could not otherwise foresee. The urgency of the story burns these details into our brains far more effectively than any non-fiction travel guide could ever hope to do.

After finishing it, I find I miss the characters and the universe they inhabit. Still, I can relive some of it, every time I take out the Enfield; Roberts’ protagonist rides an Enfield Bullet through the Mumbai nights throughout. I can also look forward to more: though stalled at the moment, Johnny Depp has the rights to the film version and is keen to play the lead; rumor has it the film is to be complete sometime in 2011.

So I will say to you exactly what everyone has said to us: if you are traveling in India, or if you are planning to do so; if you wish you could but can’t; or if you just like a great, fast paced novel to get lost in; go grab Shantaram and fall in love with India.

Gregory David Roberts’ Site

Our New 1999 Enfield Machismo

My first motorcycle ever ! Glad it’s an Enfield, the quintessential Indian two-wheeler.

There is a whole mythology that surrounds Enfields in India. In the classic expat-outlaw-on-the-lam-in-India novel, “Shantaram,” the protagonist buys himself a beat up old Enfield Bullet and cruises the countryside like Dennis Hopper in “Easy Rider,” or Michael Parks in “Then Came Bronson.” There are cinderblock Enfield repair shops everywhere, with grease all over the walls and mechanics who look like they bathe in motor oil.

And one of our friends, it was either Alex or Andrew, said if you are going to ride a bike in India, it’s just rude not to ride an Enfield.

Pam is worried that it may be dangerous for me to drive it here in Bangalore, and I fully agree. But for now, I have no idea how to even start the thing.