Shantaram


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! For the sequel of Shantaram, released in october 2015, The Mountain Shadow, click here.

“- A good listener is dangerous, because he’s so hard to resist. Being listened to–really listened to–is the second-best thing in the world.
– What’s the first best thing?
– The best thing in the world is power. Apart from the biology, sex is all about power. That’s why it’s such a rush.
– And what about love? A lot of people say that love is the best thing in the world, not power.
– They’re wrong. Love is the opposite of power. That’s why we fear it so much. And what about you? What would you say?
– I’d have to say freedom.
– The freedom to do what?
– I don’t know. Maybe just the freedom to say no. If you’ve got that much freedom, you really don’t need any more.
– It’s funny, but I was thinking it’s more important to have the freedom to say yes”
  –Lin& Karla, Shantaram

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Last summer I was reading „Shantaram”, whose action takes place in India, a very complex land that fascinates me, together with its heritage: Buddhism, Ayurveda – a system of traditional medicine, yoga, meditation, Indian philosophy and food.

„The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There’s nowhere else in the world where that’s quite so true.” – Lin, Shantaram

Shantaram is a novel influenced by real events in the life of the author, Australian Gregory David Roberts, an escaped convict without identity, searching for love and meaning in the underworld of Bombay with its slums and five-star hotels, love stories and prison tortures, criminality and redemption, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas. It is a book about faith, love, salvation, crime, morality, friendship, intrigues, goodness and badness in the world, the human nature, and a lot of Indian culture!
Shantaram, incidentally, was the name given to the protagonist Lin, meaning „a man trying to make peace” with his inner demons. He comes to love his name as his own, and by the end, he does become “Shantaram”.

Lin’s destiny will decisively be influenced by 2 people, characters built around a lot of mysteries and intrigues: Khaderbhai Khan – the mafia don and the criminal –philosopher, and Karla, a seductive yet dangerous woman whom Lin loves from the first moment he sees her. Kaderbhai and Karla, both had some great insights about life.

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The social center of this book is a bar called Leopold’s, a neutral ground with eccentric characters that flourish the city, from Afghan drug lords, expats, European prostitutes, actors, people doing business ranged from traffic in currencies, passports, gold, and sex. „Leopold’s was a place for people to see, to be seen, and to see themselves in the act of being seen.” This is the place where Lin first meets beautiful Karla and many other characters that make up the book’s spectacular cast.

There are some really profound concepts of philosophy and theology that have been discussed in the book. The Resolution Theory that Khaderbhai, the Mafia don, uses to explain his philosophy of life, and of all things Good and Bad, the insights of ethics and religion with those of physics, leave an impact:

The universe is always doing this. It is always moving from the simple to the complex. The universe, this universe that we know, began in almost absolute simplicity, and it has been getting more complex for about fifteen billion years. But we are all moving towards it– everything in the universe is moving towards it. And that final complexity, that thing we are all moving to, is what I choose to call God. If you don’t like that word, God, call it the Ultimate Complexity. Whatever you call it, the whole universe is moving toward it, our level of complexity, this level of complexity, with a consciousness capable of understanding the process, would be duplicated. Anything that enhances, promotes, or accelerates this movement toward the Ultimate Complexity is good. Anything that inhibits, impedes, or prevents this movement toward the Ultimate Complexity is evil. The wonderful thing about this definition of good and evil is that it is both objective and universally acceptable. This definition is based on what we know about how the universe works (…) The nature of everything in the universe is to do this. The more complex something is, the more alive it is. Say, take fighting. If everyone were to start doing it, there’d be chaos at first, and then death and dying. Which hinders our movement towards this infinite complexity.(…) The universe moved on until it reached what it is today, in all it’s glory. Humans, animals, the birds and the flowers. The stars and the galaxies. And it still moves on.”

 „This is a test that you should apply to every man who tells you that he knows the meaning of life. Every guru you meet and every teacher, every prophet and every philosopher, should answer these two questions for you: What is an objective, universally acceptable definition of good and evil? And, what is the relationship between consciousness and matter? If he cannot answer these two questions, you know that he has not passed the test.”

„In order to know about any act or intention or consequence, we must first ask two questions. One, what would happen if everyone did this thing? Two, would this help or hinder the movement toward complexity?” – Khaderbhai

What I found more relevant in everyday life: there are no good or bad people. There are only “good deeds” and “bad deeds” and the sum of those deeds – the actions we perform – are what make us into someone good or bad:

“- The truth is found more often in music than it is in books of philosophy.
– What is the truth?
– The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men. It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men–it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone–the noblest man alive or the most wicked–has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.
You are not a man until you give your love, truly and freely, to a child. And you are not a good man until you earn the love, truly and freely, of a child in return. “– Khaderbhai

Simple, and yet, fascinating theories unfolded in scores and scores of pages..

Here are some, marked from the book:

Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them. „– Lin
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Gregory David Roberts and his wife, Francoise Sturdza, president of the Hope for India Foundation
„When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”–Khaderbhai

“This is India, man. This is the land of the heart. This is where the heart is king, man. The fuckin’ heart. That’s how we keep this crazy place together–with the heart. Two hundred fuckin’ languages, and a billion people. India is the heart. It’s the heart that keeps us together. There’s no place with people like my people. There’s no heart like the Indian heart.” – Vikram

„India is always inspirational. There is so much to learn from India..”

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The Mountain Shadow
September 05, 2016

1 Comments

Ash
Reply July 2, 2016

Expecting a followup featuring The Mountain Shadow. The expansion on complexity and the rest. This is a great read. Good work!

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