After a miraculous escape from Prison in Australia, Lindsay, a free runaway arrives in Bombay with a false New Zealand passport. His true identity kept discreet as long as he can keep his well-kept secret. On a twist of fate, he meets his city guide Prabakar, who is the first he befriends in this wild city. The energetic guide gives him a shorter name, Lin, also known as Linbaba. Lin the narrator of Gregory Davis Roberts’s novel Shantaram, a fictional over-900 page version of his life, tells the story of his fugitive years spent in Bombay, his adventures, capturing the heart of Bombay and the plight of it’s people. They live in an exuberant world driven by their joy, sorrow, untamed love stories and a remarkable collection of Roberts’s memories.
Embarking on a journey far away from home, Lin makes a living selling drugs to tourists, living in the slums of Bombay sheltering thousands, there he opens a small clinic supporting the locals of the slum medically. His instant love with Karla Saaranen, an American Swiss whom he meets on his first days in Bombay becomes his gateway to the underground mafia council. The leader of this powerful mafia is Khader, dear person to Lin. Intrigued by Karla and her friends’ stories, like them he also has one. He lives a life entwined with love stories, gangsters mobbing streets of Bombay, committing several counterfeits, acting in bollywood movies and being set up in an Indian prison. He ends up fighting in the rigged mountains of Afghanistan. He also immerses his readers in the entrenched stories of corruption in a notorious brothel of the underworld. He weaves stories to talk about the human spirit. “Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.” And other karmic philosophy and outlooks on the world are embedded deeply in this novel. The author transcends the tales of the city to the reader’s consciousness in describing his remarkable endurance and his relationship to expatriates and locals living there. We get to know the many characters that are pivotal in Lin’s life.
Lin introduces his gang of friends, mafia goondas, expatriate bars, his love affairs, passport forging deals, gold smuggling and other counterfeits. Unraveling the stories and of this city in the 80’s. He describes intricately the city’s features; the humid monsoon summer days, the holy festivals, the Bollywood movies and the singing and dancing in the streets. It’s a true cinemascope description of Bombay which will soon fit in a Hollywood film starring Johnny Depp as Lin and Amitabh Bachchan as Khader Bhai and directed by Mira Nair.
Lin learns Marathi , the mother tongue of Bombay ( Mumbai) and the slang of the underworld in Prabaker’s village during his earlier days in Bombay. There he is christened by Prabaker’s mother Rukhmabai, ‘Shantaram’ man of peace.
The novel is the culmination of 13 years of writing. His first two attempts failed, when his writings were destroyed by wardens in prison but it was only on his third attempt after getting out of prison that he was able to complete this spiritual undertaking.
A novel about a spiritual sojourn of man, once a college revolutionary turned fugitive escaping in the slums of Mumbai sends us tales of a heart riveting city and the people who have a destiny to face everyday in his best selling novel.
We get to know Lindbaba, the gora (white man) in Bombay, or ‘my mumbai’ as he refers to in the book. After hiding ten years in the squalor of the city’s underworld he gets caught in Germany, extradited to Australia where he completes his 19-year sentence term after hiding in India.
Roberts’s Shantaram is an awakening of Lin’s soul about life in a riveting city.