Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shantaram


Shantaram
by Gregory David Roberts

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I feel like it's any given Wednesday before any given Thursday within any given week of high school.  It's 9:44 in the pm and I have a book report due in less than twelve hours.  That's how I feel right now.  I feel like I'm throwin' together a cramming session brought forth by a procrastination session.  I'm an adult now.  I don't do book reports for anyone but myself and my grandchildren (who hopefully aren't born yet,) so why am I cramming this book report?  Because tomorrow, at precisely 9:15ish -- feel free to give me crap about the ishness of my preciosity -- I have to give this Shantaram book back to Makell.

I suppose I don't have to give the book back tomorrow.  She's nice enough that she'd let me keep it longer if I asked nicely.  But I've been done with it a few weeks so I might as well give it back. Oh, and if you're up for reading a fine one from Makell, read this.  She does book reports too!

At our last adventure a while back, Makell and I exchanged books.  I gave her The Mourning Run and she gave me Shantaram.  We met for some skiing at Alta.  It was a lovely day.  One in which Makell made me go down narrow passages that I wouldn't normally frequent.  I prefer bowls to narrow passages. I suppose it's a leftover characteristic of my rowdier days -- where I would prefer the rowdy stuff in bowls as opposed to narrow passages.  When we skied last, I cried all the way down those narrow passages.  Then Makell would tell me to shut up and do it again.  She might be nice enough to let me keep a book longer, but she's mean enough to keep me out of my comfort zone.

Last week, Makell and I exchanged pleasantries about meeting again for some skiing.  We decided upon Wednesday (today.)  Then both of us looked at the weather and at the exact same time (almost,) hollered a STORM'S COMING IN WEDNESDAY LET'S GO THURSDAY! e-mail (or was it a text?  Can't remember.)  We immediately settled on Thursday because, let's just face it, a day with a storm out-shines a day of sun.  Just does.  Both of us were able to arrange babysitters, jobs, and whatnot to get ourselves away.

What a glorious arrangement tomorrow will be.  The winds have been howling.  It's raining in the valley, and the temperatures are dropping.  All of these happenings can only mean one thing: It's dumping in the mountains!  I even have proof that it's snowing in the mountains because I refreshed Park City's Web Cam, like, eighteen times between 3:00pm and dark.  If all goes as planned, Rabid will get her powder day.  Hoorah!  Makell's prolly had her powder day this year, so maybe Makell will get another powder day.  Hoorah!  Hoorahs all around!

And you thought this was a book report.

Actually, it is a book report, so I'll get started. Shantaram, in all of its 933 pages is a fantastic read.  Fantastic.  It's the somewhat true story of this Gregory David Roberts guy, who escaped from prison in Australia, then hid himself for many years in Bombay, India.  He fell in love, lived in a slum where he served as slum medic, joined the predominant Indian mafia to deal in illegal passports and visas, then loyally accompanied this mafia to fight a war in Afghanistan.  I say "a" war, because there's too many to call it "the" war.  This particular Afghan scramble was fought against Russia during the mid 80s.

I don't know how much of Shantaram is true... I know that Roberts did escape from a prison in Australia, where he was held for armed bank robbery, the proceeds of which were used to fund Roberts' heroin habit.  He did work for the Indian mafia, and he did travel to fight in Afghanistan.  I believe some of the fringe fables were inserted for spice.  And we all know that any story in India requires spice!  Cardamom! And Curry!  And Coriander! And Cinnamon! I just realized that all the "C" spices come from India.  Actually, all of the spices come from India, so naturally the "C" spices would come from India too.  I love spice.  Sigh.  I love India.  Sigh.

Before Gregory David Roberts became a junkie, he was a journalist in Australia somewhere.  He's a terrific writer; one who balances detail nicely (not too much, not too little, just right!)  There's plenty of suspense, plenty of feeling, and plenty of beautifully constructed paragraphs. 

Care for an example?  Roberts, who went by Lin, lost two of his closest friends.  As a result, he locked himself into an opium den with three months worth of heroin, then proceeded to do nothing but cook himself -- for three whole months.  He says:

"Heroin is a sensory deprivation tank for the soul.  Floating on the Dead Sea of the drug stone, there's no sense of pain, no regret or shame, no feelings of guilt or grief, no depression, and no desire.  The sleeping universe enters and envelops every atom of existence.  Insensible stillness and peace disperse fear and suffering.  Thoughts drift like ocean weeds and vanish in the distant, grey somnolency, unperceived an indeterminable.   The body succumbs to cryogenic slumber: the listless heart beats faintly, and breathing slowly faces to random whispers.  Thick nirvanic numbness clogs the limbs, and downward, deeper, the sleeper slides and glides toward oblivion, the perfect and eternal stone.

"The chemical absolution is paid for, like everything else in the universe, with light.  The first light that junkies lose is the light in their eyes.  A junkie's eyes are as lightless as the eyes of Greek statues, as lightless as hammered lead, as lightless as a bullet hole in a dead man's back.  The next light lost is the light of desire.  Junkies kill desire with the same weapon they use on hope and dream and honour: the club made from their craving.  And when all the other lights of life are gone, the last light lost is the light of love.  Sooner or later, when it's down to the last hit, the junkie will give up the woman he loves, rather than go without; sooner or later, every hard junkie becomes a devil in exile."

So don't do heroin, kay?

Gregory David Roberts was captured eventually and sent back to Australia.  He wrote this Shantaram adventure while serving the remainder of his combined sentences.  Some sources say that he wrote it around three times because the guards kept confiscating his manuscripts. I've also read somewhere that a movie is in the works.  Supposedly, Johnny Depp will play the part of Lin.

I'd like to leave you all with the last paragraph of the book.  It's a delightful passage that I want to read again sometime, without having to read the 932 pages that come before it.  And after I type the finishing touches of this here book report, I'm going to lay my head down on my fluffy pillow.  In the which I will drift off to nigh-nigh-land, while I listen to the wind carry in my powder day.

"For this is what we do.  Put one foot forward and then the other.  Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more.  Think.  Act.  Feel.  Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world.  Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night.  Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day.  With love: the passionate search for a truth other than our own.  With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved.  For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on.  God help us.  God forgive us.  We live on."

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2 comments:

Jessica said...

I just read this. Just now. That last paragraph was beautiful. I may just have to read the 932 pages before that.

Makell said...

The powder day was so much fun!! Or maybe it was just a combo of good friend, good conversation and good pow pow! I was dog tired the next day- a sign of an awesome day:).
Excellent synopsis of a ginormous book- I'm glad you read it first - I'm a little afraid to crack that one open!