Shantaram and India – the novel by Gregory David Roberts is a travesty. It’s stating the bleeding obvious, but I’ll say it. Sample India; take a look at the pictures in this blog; and decide.
I know. You can’t really review a whole country.
Railway station in Chennai – all photos Leigh Turner
Especially not India: more than 13 times the size of the UK, massively diverse, and packed with history.
I have to say: India is awesome
But I wanted to write for two reasons. I’ve just visited Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. I’m writing this in Chennai. My first visit, a couple of years ago, was to Kerala and Goa. Yes, I need to visit the north of India too.
Shantaram and India: beyond parody
Second, I’ve been reminded of one of the finest pieces of parodic writing I know: a review of “Shantaram”, a 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts. The novel itself is in my view almost beyond parody; but gets roughly 90% positive reviews on Amazon. I was with the 10%, and found the review by R Gray laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Shantaram and India: the challenges
“Shantaram” sums up the challenges for a non-Indian person wanting to engage with such a tumultuous, many-layered place. The hero of the book depicts himself as someone who has got to the heart of India, with countless adventures and love affairs along the way, thereby earning himself plaudits from every person he meets.
Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Understanding India is a seductive concept. No wonder people like to read “Shantaram”, whose title, characteristically, refers to the author himself and means “Man of God’s Peace”; and feel they’ve come closer to discovering the place, or themselves.
A journey of discovery
I would give “Shantaram” 3/10 on the basis that although the hero is irritating beyond measure, it’s a pretty fast-moving read. But overall, as at the rather New Age-ish idealistic settlement of Auroville, which I also visited, I am reminded of this postcard published by the admirable www.gatheredimages.com – I urge you to buy their products:
Copyright Gathered Images www.gatheredimages.com – tons of good stuff
The richness that is India
So I won’t go further in these attempts to sum up the richness that is India except to publish below a few photos taken over the past week, and to make three observations:
(i) India is indeed, as the slogan says, Incredible, and worth a visit;
(ii) in Chennai in particular I saw much evidence of rapid economic growth, in what a recent FT article argued may already be the world’s most populous country and will probably have double China’s population in the next 50 years;
(iii) much also remains in India which is traditional, in terms both of customs and historical artefacts. Long may both remain preserved.
Pictures from around Chennai
Pictures below, in rough chronological order:
Nurses crossing the street near Chennai’s historic nursing college
Family group with 1,400 year-old statue at “5 Rathas”, Mahabalipuram
Visiting the Shore Temple, built 700-728 AD, also Mahabalipuram
The Elephant God Ganesha decorates a bus in Pondicherry
Kamakshi Amman Temple, Kanchipuram, with bell-tower and Gopuram (entrance tower)
The mighty Ekambareshwara Temple, Kanchipuram, is mostly 10thC
Brahmans at the 7thC Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram
One of countless street vendors between Kanchipuram and Chennai
P.S. I hope you have enjoyed this review of “Shantaram and India”. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish). Or I would be delighted if you would like to follow me on Facebook.