You know the difference between news and gossip, don't you? News tells you what people did. Gossip tells you how much they enjoyed it.
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram.
Dear Mr. Roberts,
Yesterday, I finished reading Shantaram… for the second time. And I’ve got tell you, I enjoyed it even more than the first time around!
My fellow commuters endured nervous laughs, sighs, discreet swearing, tears and yes… waggling of the head, for a month or so, in my daily 20 minutes train ride. Oh yes, I found myself crying, weeping really, on the train, during my morning commute, when I read about Prabaker’s death. And I knew it was going to happen! But how can you not love Prabaker? How can you not be moved my Anand’s sense of honour? How can you not go “way to go Vikram!”, when Lettie finally says yes? How can you not cry with Rukhmabai, when she cuts her hair? How can you not smile when you see young Prabu? You cannot, you just can’t.
When my parents first read the book they wouldn’t stop talking about it, they’d go on for hours, on how incredible the plot was, how faithfully the Indians were depicted, how you would be transported to India in a couple of sentences. And I, of course, as all children, was skeptical… surely they were exaggerating a bit, they read it while on their yearly vacation in Goa. But then, when I borrowed the book and finished reading… I was more of a Shantaram-Evangelist than they were! I would be the one who wouldn’t shut up about it, I would be the one describing my favourite bits and quotes, I would be the one to say “yaar” and “arrey”, whenever appropriate. Besides, how can a Ahimsa not love a Shantaram?
So, this second time around, I found myself Shantaram-Evangelising, once again, to the extent of giving a copy in Portuguese, as a Christmas present, to one of my dearest friends, who had to hear all about it at lunch time. When she saw me after Christmas she gave me a huge hug, before I could even say a word, and said “Is that a bear hug? Is that how Abdullah did it?”. I smiled and nodded, you see, we don’t have the expression either in Portuguese.
My copy of Shantaram is earmarked, folded, the spine is broken… it’s in worse condition now, than when it travelled all the way from India to Portugal. So I guess I have to give a new copy to my parents, I cannot let go of this one, not just yet, because as my Mother said “… when you read it, you’re right in the middle of it, you feel you are right there with them [Indian people]…”. How can I ever give that up?