Friday, January 14, 2011

Shantaram

I was glad that I waited to read Shantaram (2003) until after I had been to India (where Gregory David Roberts based his story) so that I knew more about the context, whether in terms of Indian culture of just the familiarity of the place names of Bombay. Although I had the book at home and I saw it being sold in Leopolds (where Roberts spent much of his time meeting friends or writing) I didn't read it until months after my second visit to India.

If I had read it before I went to India I'm not sure I would have understood it so well and may even have been put off going and feared a world I was not familiar with. Instead I went without the story of the book to colour my views and loved the experience however wonderfully alien it was at first and when I read the book after, I was able to enter quickly into the world described and learn much from Roberts' story.

Roberts considered his main character, much like himself, to be 'a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum security prison.' 

As Roberts describes so vividly the experience of heroin I can see clearly why so many people lose their lives to this drug.

 '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 into distant, grey somnolency, unpercieved and indeterminable. The body succumbs to cryogenic slumber: the listless heart beats faintly, and breathing slowly fades to random whispers. Thick nirvanic numbness clogs the limbs, and downward, deeper, the sleeper slides and glides towards oblivion, the perfect and eternal stone.'


His experience of torture and tolerance and his take on forgiveness are all to be learned from:
 'It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realized, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn't sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when its all you have got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving,can become the story of your life.'
And especially how forgiveness is linked to love...

It's forgiveness that makes us what we are. Without forgiveness, our species would've annihilated itself in endless retributions. Without forgiveness, there would be no history. Without that hope, there would be no art, for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness. Without that dream, there would be no love, for every act of love is in some way a promise to forgive. We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.

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