Shantaram: My own little epic

My story of this story began eight years before I even went to India.

Shantaram is a novel, inspired by true events, that tells the story of the author’s incredible life starting with an almost unbelievable escape from a prison in Australia to him trying to build some sort of a life in the slums of Mumbai.  He weaves heartbreakingly beautiful prose against the backdrop of some of the world’s worst living conditions. Weighing just under 1,000 pages it is safe to call this book an epic.

“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.” – Shantaram

The book was given to me as a birthday present as inspiration for my upcoming first trip to India and with the quote above you can see why. Sounds a pretty boring blog post though, right? Boy meets book, boy reads book, the end. If only it were that simple…..

The first copy survived about six months.

It was dutifully packed to come to India with me and travelled around with me where ever I went; from city to town, town to village, country to country. That was until I left India for Nepal, clearly it didn’t like me taking it out of it’s home country. I had just arrived in Nepal after a 24 hour bus journey and unpacked the necessary things you need after having sat on a bus from Delhi to Kathmandu; soap, soap and more soap. Finding the room to not have hot water we changed rooms and with it Shantaram was lost. I don’t know how it escaped me but some lucky person who took that room after we left got a free book and bookmark photo of my family, which I really hope they didn’t keep…

The second copy lies somewhere in the desert of Afghanistan.

Having only read about 200 of its umpteen pages from the first copy I decided to buy myself a new copy about two years after getting back from India. That should have been the end of this story as there were no perils for books in the wilderness of Durham. However, just before my brother was due to be posted out to Afghanistan he realised that he was low on books and with not a paged turned in anger by me off Shantaram went to fight. There the brave book stayed as once read it was passed on to the next soldier and the next where I hope it will live out it’s days.

The third copy came and went in an instant.

Having booked a trip back to India about a year later I decided to buy another copy hoping this really was third time lucky. Long story short; it got tossed out of a moving car by a rather eccentric  Frenchman.

Now we come to today and copy four.

When the lady at the bookshop saw what I was buying she told me that when the author was eventually tracked down by the Australian authorities and put back in jail he tried to write the story and had his manuscript destroyed many times by the prison guards. I chuckled to myself (like a crazy person) as it gave me some strange higher connection to the story now, as if I too was reliving that part of his life through the loss of my copies.

Solace or not I will be so glad when I can put it on my bookshelf, whenever that happens….



I’ve done it! After many years and many editions last night at bang on the stoke of midnight I turned the final page of that wonderful book. With somewhat a heavy heart I can now scratch that off my bucket list. The reason I’m sad its over is simply because it was an incredible read, like reading my own echoes, and I didn’t want it to end.

20 thoughts on “Shantaram: My own little epic

  1. Gigglegaggle says:

    I think this is the best thing you’ve ever written on here! Such humour and history. I’ve printed it out to show to my friends. Wonderful stuff James thank you

  2. restlessjo says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Giggle Gaggle, James. It made a great read in itself, with a smile at the end. The book was on my reading list from way back, though I doubt I’ll ever make it to India. Should I buy 3 or 4 copies at the outset, just in case, do you think?
    I’m intrigued by the Frenchman! Do tell? 🙂

  3. Katie Dolla says:

    Got to say one of your best James. I actually brought this book a month ago and have yet to pick it up! Loved this post so did my kids. Keep up this kind of writing please!! p.s liked the app review, downloaded it and its my default mail app

  4. Darcy M. Reilly says:

    The extra-feature on DVD of Kaagaz Ke Phool has a three-part Channel 4 -produced documentary on the life and works of Guru Dutt titled In Search of Guru Dutt .

  5. Jayde-Ashe says:

    This is probably my favourite book of all time! I have, quite honestly, read it about 15 times, it’s just that good. Like you, my copy has been to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia, but luckily I still have it in one piece. Great post.

      • Jayde-Ashe says:

        Haha no!! Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam…one trip. Singapore and Malaysia…one trip. New Zealand one trip, and I live in Australia but the book has been all over the country. It’s such a good travel book because you only need to take one!

  6. Eleanor says:

    I love when you read a book that feels like future you travelled back in time and wrote it for yourself, or like the author has been inside your head. If you get my drift.

  7. silver price says:

    The author of this book is an American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is married to an Indian man. She has spent the last few years doing scrupulous research for this book which is a realistic portrayal of life in a Mumbai slum. All the people are real. All the incidents really happened. And the writing itself is so good that it hooked me from the very beginning and kept my eyes glued to the pages.This is a world where whole families live in cardboard shacks where sewage runs raw after storms, education is mostly nonexistent and the worst forms of corruption is everywhere. Here we meet the real people in the area – the young boy who scavenges scrap metal, a woman who tries to be political and the one college student who hopes for a brighter future. We also learn about the diseases that disable people and the compromises made just in order to put some food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And then there is the endemic corruption. The police are paid little and depend on graft to make a living. expect to collect it whenever they can. Hospitals are filthy stink holes. And members of the community are so afraid of getting involved that they will let a man with a broken leg lie in the street for several days until he eventually dies.The book is so well written that it brought me into the hearts and minds of these people who live in the shadow of a luxury hotel and an expanding airport. In spite of their poverty they have learned to be resourceful and struggle along the best they can.The book reads like a novel. And, in a way I sure wish it was. It is just too painful to realize that this is all real. Hopefully, its publication will help to make a difference.

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