Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Shantaram Taught Me More About Life Than Life Did

I can't believe that I haven't brought up this book here since its intrinsically valuable to me in ways I'm not quite sure of myself. But its an experience on its own, and if you have the time, you definitely should read it at least once.And I can find a hundred people to back me up on this.
Not that the book doesn't have its share of haters.Shantaram, written by Gregory David Roberts has faced a lot of criticism and backlash. Terrible writing, over-romanticization, too pretentious in its emotional content, and highly exaggerated through excessive use of adjectives,these are all complaints and criticisms that I've read/heard multiple times.Well, truthfully I think all those people behind these remarks are drier than Pakistan's dams.
Yes, he does over play, and over feel.I myself remember thinking that.But so what? The story is about an ordinary man, living an extraordinary life in ordinary times. So what if he over-philosophizes? so what if he doesn't go about telling things exactly how they were, but how mystical they seemed to him? I don't understand why people are afraid of life being something beyond the comprehension of their own vision.What is it that scares them? It's a story. Take what you want from it, leave the rest.Bus.So simple.

The thing about Shantaram is that the protagonist lives a superhuman life, without, of course the spandex and the one mortal enemy.In fact the most khoobsurat aspect of the book is that the villain, and the hero are all the same. That's one of the lessons that the book tries to teach us. Within us, we have the potential to be our own hero, our own worst enemy and everything in between. The whole universe resides within us, and we reside in the each and every aspect of the entire universe.Life is just life. It will be good, it will be bad, it will be everything that you wanted and nothing that you needed;its trajectory is not under our control, the only thing that is in your control is how you deal with it. And it precisely that , that  is going to make you who you are;whether you will be the protagonist or the antagonist of your own life is your choice.As human beings we have been given the freedom the make that choice.The book, in fact starts on this exact note:

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... And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving,can become the story of your life.

The book is an almost-memoir of the the author's own experiences, a slightly exaggerated and perhaps fictionalized account of his life- but inspired by his own life nonetheless.I mean, there is nothing  crazy that this guy doesn't do, from being an escaped convict, to a slum doctor, to working in Bollywood films, to being involved in the Bombay underworld, and eventually fighting the war in Afghanistan.He did everything, and yes that  could hardly be true.Nobody lives that life.Yet through all those unreal experiences, the character himself, remains undeniably real.He never becomes bigger than his many experiences and more importantly, mistakes, but the pursuit to be better is constant and ongoing. His shortcomings remain a part of him till the very end of the book, and that is the reality of the human condition.The portrayal of the erroneous and imperfect nature of people and the lives they live is so honest,and relatable,that the fictionalization of everything else just doesn't matter. The protagonist, our hero,never becomes a hero in the Disney/movies sense of the word.As he goes through a tumultuous life in the bustling city of Bombay, he gains wisdom that one can never get through advice but only experiences, yet that suffering and knowledge doesn't make him saint-like, or the devil's reincarnation as you would imagine. He remains painstakingly human.Through each trial, he is still the same; older, wiser, better-yes, but still  the same.The core never changes. The ever-present ability to start walking the wrong direction never changes.The protagonist, after having gone though so much, doesn't just stop and resign to a  quiet life in a village because he knows enough (although sometimes you truly wonder why). He still ends up doing things that make you think 'whats wrong with youuu, whyyyyy?', because we can see that it won't end well-just like we can end up doing things that we know won't end well.We all have those moments when we lack the foresight to see the impending doom in the eyes of the future that stares back at us, perhaps because we are lured by the manner with which it stares. The truth is that the emotions that inspire our worst actions never disappear in thin air once lessons have been learnt, they have the uncanny knack of reappearing -which is why we do the things we do, sometimes,again.The inherent affinity of human beings to be self-destructive, masochistic, and almost suicidal in our interpretation of feelings,circumstances and our materialization of those tendencies through questionable behavior and actions are all part of living in this world. The ability to fall and to undergo helplessness in the face of making mistakes is just part of being human, and alive.However,to be a hero, you need to still be able to move past it,hoping to be better all the while never forgetting how fallible human nature is.The constant pursuit of becoming more than everything you have been through is what makes you a hero, no matter how naive the intention- the innocence of that intention rejuvenates you, almost like a re-birth.  Accepting that you'll never be more than what you did, or what has been done to you- is what makes you your own worst enemy.To abandon the pursuit of more, is to stop the process of learning and living.
The characters in the book, in the same way are gray. The circumstances outlining the narrative may be extraordinary, but the characters are people we have met, or known at some point or the other.They are transcendental in their own way, capable of supernatural acts of forgiveness, love, kindness and virtue, yet at the same time they all have their own internal demons, their own insecurities, their own agendas which we can understand to a limited extent, yet can never fully anticipate and experience the storms they cause inside one's soul that propel the characters to do the things that they do.Fantastical, yet disarmingly familiar.

This is has become way longer than I expected, especially since I just wanted to share the Resolution/Complexity that theory one of the character introduces in the book.
Oh well, I guess a quote will have to do.

"I smoked in those days, because like everyone in the world who smokes, I wanted to die at least as much as I wanted to live" 

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