Gregory David Roberts, Traveller

From Wikipedia (footnotes deleted):

Shantaram is a 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison flees to India. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay.

Land of Excitement and Danger!

In 1978, Roberts was sentenced to a 19-year imprisonment in Australia after being convicted of a series of armed robberies of building society branches, credit unions, and shops. In July 1980, he escaped from Victoria’s Pentridge Prison in broad daylight, thereby becoming one of Australia’s most wanted men for the next ten years.

Someone should do a search for criminals who were last seen boarding a UFO…

The protagonist Lindsay (according to the book, Roberts’ fake name) arrives in Bombay carrying a false passport in the name of Lindsay Ford. Mumbai was supposed to be only a stopover on a journey that was to take him from New Zealand to Germany, but he decides to stay in the city.

Ever tried to find a lost Traveller? Especially a Traveller who is kinda slack, not too good when it comes to filing flight plans and using his proper ID papers?

Now, how about a Traveller who had decided to vanish in the middle of some alien enter pot trade world, the local equivalent of Bombay, or Hong Kong, or Lagos?

“And don’t forget: the lower the law level, the better!”
“Hearing the singing AK-47s and the occasional explosions, you won’t have any problem with that!”

On their way back to Mumbai, Lin and Prabaker are robbed. With all his possessions gone, Lin is forced to live in the slums, which shelters him from the authorities. After a massive fire on the day of his arrival in the slum, he sets up a free health clinic as a way to contribute to the community. He learns about the local culture and customs in this crammed environment, gets to know and love the people he encounters, and even becomes fluent in Marathi, the local language. He also witnesses and battles outbreaks of cholera and firestorms, becomes involved in trading with the lepers, and experiences how ethnic and marital conflicts are resolved in this densely crowded and diverse community.

For the Empty Quarter, I have set up the East Indians as a local foil and a counter for the Arab Muslims. But it would be interesting to investigate Indian culture on it’s own terms, and not merely as a platform for the conflicts that drive a story forward, or just as a colourful backdrop.

The novel describes a number of foreigners of various origins, as well as local Indians, highlighting the rich diversity of life in Mumbai. Lin falls in love with Karla, a Swiss-American woman, befriends local artists and actors, landing him roles as an extra in several Bollywood movies, and is recruited by the Mumbai underworld for various criminal operations, including drug and weapons trade. Lin eventually lands in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Prison. There, along with hundreds of other inmates, he endures brutal physical and mental abuse from the guards, while existing under extremely squalid conditions. However, thanks to the protection of the Afghan mafia don “Abdel Khader Khan”, Lin is eventually released, and begins to work in a black market currency exchange and passport forgery. Having traveled as far as Africa on trips commissioned by the mafia, Lin later goes to Afghanistan to smuggle weapons for mujahideen freedom fighters.

“It isn’t actually true that the terms ‘free trader’ and ‘weapons smuggler’ are synonymous in the Empty Quarter… but they’re close enough to confuse the locals, every so often.”

When his mentor Khan is killed, Lin realizes he has become everything he grew to loathe and falls into depression after he returns to India. He decides that he must fight for what he believes is right, and build an honest life.

There comes a time in every Traveller’s life when he takes a good look in the mirror, and face who he really is.

If good:

  • Perhaps he has done what he set out to do, and it’s time to go home.
  • Maybe the work he has chosen will never really be finished… but the PC doesn’t mind dying in harness, with his boots on.
  • He may have wasted years on a fool’s errand – however noble – and it’s time to admit he was wrong.

If evil:

  • Maybe he will just shrug, and forget, and turn to meet the destiny he has chosen.
  • Perhaps his guilt becomes overwhelming… and, in despair, he chooses death over life. Maybe with drugs, maybe with alcohol, maybe with suicide-by-cop/Vargr/Imperial Marine… “Life and victory is difficult, but disgrace and death is easy.”
  • Surprisingly, he actually turn from evil and repents. Don’t snicker: it really does happen, even in the Empty Quarter.

About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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