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It Started with Shantaram…

Shantaram - how I fell for India thetraveloguer.com

  It felt as though I would never get there.

 

India was somewhere that had been calling to me for such a long time, in such a consuming away that it was almost painful. I had longed for India like someone who had been cruelly torn from their lover’s embrace, and all I wanted was to be there.

 

It all started with Shantaram.

shantaram india thetraveloguer.com

Before I took the 900-plus paged tome in my hands, India had been on my list of places to go, but I didn’t ache to be there. I watched Slumdog Millionaire and was excited by the country and its people, but I was sure it was somewhere I would visit, and didn’t lose any sleep over it.

I was first handed the book that would change me forever as I sat in the front seat of A’s little Polo one freezing winter night in Dublin. My friend passed it to me from the back and I remember the way my open palm dipped under its weight. She had previously told me that the writing in it was beautiful and that she thought I should read it. I was intrigued, but at that moment, all I thought about was how I was going to fit yet another fat book into my already dangerously heavy backpack.

 

Little did I know the effect that book would have on me.

When we first took off on our adventure, A was actually the one carrying Shantaram. I had the Lonely Planet, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, and about four other books in my bag. An insane amount, I know, but as a giant bookworm I feared running out of reading material like an alcoholic fears that last trickle left in a bottle, and the way that it clings to the bottom, one last sip to never be released onto a tongue that is aching for its nectar.

But then, one day in Phnom Penh, I opened its pages and instantly fell down a rabbit hole into the expertly spun imagination of Gregory David Roberts.

Bombay grabbed me and entered my soul, and it never left.

It pulsed through my veins and wrapped itself around my heart, so that the pumping of my blood seemed to chant ‘India’ on a loop, as I tried to continue on with my life as I had done before. Before Shantaram, before India and before Bombay.

Suddenly, as I travelled around Cambodia, my favourite place that I had been to in Asia, the urge to go to India was overwhelming.

Reading Shantaram, I felt as though I had found a book that was written just for me. The only thing I could compare it to was when I first read Are You There God, it’s Me Margaret? at the angst-ridden age of 12, and was amazed that books could be so honest.

I vividly remember sitting in an old wicker chair on the wide stone balcony that wrapped around our accommodation in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. My feet resting up on the hard and cool grey balcony railing, Shantaram pressing its weight gently onto my thighs as my neck tilted towards it like a swan dipping for food in a slow-moving canal. The sound of the relentless rain barely registering in my mind as I smiled to myself and savoured Robert’s artistic way with words. It rained for most of our time there, which made it acceptable to spend my days sitting on that balcony, my mind a million miles away, as the rain beat down on the beach below.

I consumed it with a fierce hunger and the smiling relief that a book-lover feels when holding a sufficiently large book in their hands. Knowing that you are free to binge-read in the knowledge that there is no danger of finishing the book in one night is a luxury, but, at the same time, you know that no matter how long it is, soon the last page would come.

It’s funny, but the way I felt reading Shantaram was exactly how I felt when I was finally in India; euphoric and joyful, yet with an unshakable feeling of horror at the knowledge that soon I would have to leave this place, and leave my heart and some of my soul behind.

It felt like it took me forever to get there.

 

As I waited impatiently for India, I watched Slumdog Millionaire with a racing heart. The colour and life flashed before my eyes, my imagination was realised on the screen. I went to see the Best Exotic Marigold on my own one night, in the sleepy town of Keri Keri, New Zealand, as I simply couldn’t wait one more night for my friends to come with me. As the beauty of Jaipur played out on the screen, I felt both delight and a tear in my eye as I longed to be there.

It took three years after opening that first page of Shantaram. Three years of feeling a flutter of panic every time I thought of India. Three years of fearing that I would never get there, and that I was missing out on so much by being everywhere else. New Zealand and Australia at times seemed so hideous in comparison to the magic that was India.

 

Three years after falling in love with a place I had never been to, finally, finally, it was my time to be there.

 

welcometoindia thetraveloguer it all started with shantaram

 

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    September 17, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Shantaram is a great read… although I think things have changed a lot in India since it was written, but I sure wish things were as magical as he writes them. I love how he sees Bombay. With so many more toursits, there is less tourist/local friendship in the big cities and as an expat here 2 years, I always wonder if it’d be even better back then.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted…Religious India: 5 Spiritual Things to do in IndiaMy Profile

    • Reply
      Christine
      September 30, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Yeah, I think you’re right, a lot has changed since then, but it was probably better! 🙂 When I first read it, I didn’t even realise that it wasn’t written in the pretty recent past until they started talking about Afghanistan.
      Christine recently posted…Monochrome Monday- Kathmandu MenMy Profile

  • Reply
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie)
    September 17, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Shantaram…fabulous. And I love that it changed your life. Good literature does that:)
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted…Social Media Becomes Big Brother… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  • Reply
    Tim
    September 17, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I have read Shantaram and it is an epic novel for sure. Reading it made me think reflectively of the first time I landed in India and seeing the slums; that was in the 90’s. The country got under my skin like few others and, like you, it was with some emotional pain that I left 2 months later. I love the way you write about reading the book in Shinoukville as I can picture that in mind as vividly as I can India. I have returned to India 3 times and it always leaves its mark with me as I think it does on most. Great post Christine and I can only assume that India lived up, rather exceeded, your expectations.
    Tim recently posted…Arriving in the IndiesMy Profile

    • Reply
      Christine
      September 30, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks Tim. Yes, both Shantaram and India are well and truly under my skin. Being there really lived up to, and definitely exceeded, my expectations, and I can’t wait to get back!
      Christine recently posted…Monochrome Monday- Kathmandu MenMy Profile

  • Reply
    Lenie
    September 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Christine – amazing the influence books can have on our lives. I hope when you finally got to India that it was everything you hoped it would be. your post was a most interesting read.
    Lenie
    Lenie recently posted…NATURAL REMEDIES FOR COMMON AILMENTSMy Profile

  • Reply
    Beth Niebuhr
    September 18, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    I love books and people who love books! They change our lives in so many ways. It’s wonderful that you finally got to realize your dream – to actually be in India.

  • Reply
    andleeb
    September 18, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Shantaram- it changed your thought. Books do have influence on our minds and thoughts.
    I hope that you have found India much better and developed that was in Shantaram, and it was good after long dream you you got the wish.
    andleeb recently posted…How to Improve Mathematics?My Profile

  • Reply
    Eileen
    September 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    It is amazing how books have such a powerful effect. This is what makes me sad sometimes to see that the younger generation do not take time to read a good book. I could probably say that I had a similar experience as yours, although it was not a book but a TV series. It was about relationships, the social gap between the rich and the poor, and a wonderful love story that blossomed despite all odds. I learned Mandarin and flew to Taiwan. I spent two fruitful years there. Earned enough to send my kids through school and learned so much about their culture.
    Eileen recently posted…Love is Bigger than Hate: Stop the Cruelty. Put an End to BullyingMy Profile

  • Reply
    Meredith Wouters
    September 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I love your writing style – very vivid. I’ll have to try Shantaram, although I’m a little afraid I’ll fall down the same rabbit hole! 🙂
    Meredith Wouters recently posted…Lichen PaletteMy Profile

  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    September 21, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Interesting post. Everyone writes about places after they’ve been there. Your story is about falling in love with a place in acticipation of going there.
    Ken Dowell recently posted…Digital Deception: Wikipedia’s PR ProblemMy Profile

  • Reply
    alicia-joy
    October 1, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this. Beautifully written and great book recommendation. I haven’t read Shantarm, but I am now adding to my list. As a teen, I was read quite a few books set in India (and many far away places) and reading each one made me want to travel forever. I still get a lot of travel inspiration from books. I just love being swept away with words on the page.

    I truly believe books can make our hearts yearn for a land, a people, and a culture.

    Thank you 🙂
    alicia-joy recently posted…Avoiding Internet Burnout (the irony)My Profile

    • Reply
      Christine
      October 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Thank you! Oh you definitely should 🙂
      Me too, it’s so great getting lost in a book. So many books have inspired me to go to different places, that’s one of the many reasons I love books! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Reply
    ClemandMarcella
    October 1, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Such well written post! India is so enchanting. I went to India twice before reading Shantaram and I have to confess that I’ve started reading it three times (I know!!) and still have never finished it. It’s such a beautiful book but just so long. One day, one day 🙂
    ~ Marcella
    ClemandMarcella recently posted…Views of Dhulikhel, NepalMy Profile

  • Reply
    Amy @ Amy and the Great World
    October 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Books have been one of my biggest travel inspirations over the years. I love going somewhere I’ve read about! I love the style of your post.
    Amy @ Amy and the Great World recently posted…Expat Wins {Czech Republic}My Profile

    • Reply
      Christine
      October 16, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      Me too! It’s like you’ve already been there! 🙂

  • Reply
    Marie
    January 13, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    I love the book Shantaram. It took me a while to finish it. But I completely understand why you chose to go. India is also on my bucket list of travel destinations. 🙂
    Love your post – it was very inspiring!
    Marie recently posted…Why Traveling Solo Gives You Huge AdvantagesMy Profile

  • Reply
    nuala
    August 23, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    I loved this book & your account of it! I felt exactly the same way about it! I booked my flight to India when I finished Shantaram & cut my working holiday in New Zealand short – my impatience triumphs over all….
    I am also that person carrying minimum 3 thick books in my backpack while other people have packed things like water purifiers & sleeping bags. Heaven forbid I have nothing to read!
    Looking forward to reading more of your blog, I love your writing style. Here’s my post on Shantaram, if you can be arsed to have a wee read 🙂
    https://wordpress.com/post/thechroniclesofmyitchyfeet.wordpress.com/1256
    Thanks!

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