The Mountain Shadow book review: Damp squib

By: | Published: December 13, 2015 12:09 AM

Gregory David Roberts’ The Mountain Shadow doesn’t quite live up to its stellar prequel

The Mountain Shadow
Gregory David Roberts
Hachette
Pp 873
R899

IT’S BEEN a long time coming. Gregory David Roberts’ best-selling book Shantaram, which was about Mumbai and its underbelly, was published in 2003. It brought a lot of fame to Roberts, who had escaped from prison in Australia and landed in India in 1980. He remained on the run for the next 10 years before being caught and sent back to Australia, which is when the former heroin addict and convict began writing Shantaram. At the time of the book’s launch, it was announced that he would write more books based on his life.

Roberts’ second book, The Mountain Shadow, which took 10 years to write, is just as long as its prequel, but thereby hangs a tale. If you were a tad irritated with the overdose of homilies in Shantaram, it gets worse in The Mountain Shadow. Characters sermonise all through, drawing conclusions on life, god, faith, fate and so forth: “Truth is the freedom of the soul”, “Love and faith, like hope and justice, are constellations in the infinity of truth”, “Humour is the spiritual language of freedom and sacrifice is the spiritual language of penance”, “Riding a motorcycle is velocity as poetry”—homilies like these appear once too often. You are left scratching your head, as you search for the
meaning of such profound declarations. This is Eat Pray Love blown out of proportion.

In Shantaram, Lindsey Ford, or Lin as we know him, escapes a prison in Australia and ends up in the slums of Mumbai. He starts a health clinic, falls in love with a Swiss woman called Karla and soon joins hands with the mafia. At the end of Shantaram, don Abdel Khader Khan is killed and Lin, who worked for Khan ever since he was bailed out of Arthur Jail by him, discovers that the don had a spiritual guru called Idriss. So Khan may be dead, but he lives on in the sequel through Idriss, who has one ‘philosophical’ line too many in the book. It has been two years since the events in Shantaram and, in its sequel, we see a stronger, harder Lin, no longer in exile, but in search of love and truth. And there’s Karla, of course, the same enigmatic self, but now married to Ranjit, a media tycoon.

Roberts is a keen observer of Mumbai and his city sketches are interesting, even prescient. As Lin tells us: “… I worried for the changes I was seeing. …The violence of the past was just sand in the swash of a new wave, breaking on the Island City’s shores. Political thugs travelled by the truckload, brandishing clubs, and mafia gangs of twenty or thirty men had grown to hundreds of fighters. We are what we fear, and many of us in the city feared reckless days of reckoning.” And here’s Lin doing a Lonely Planet, riding along the shopping boulevard of Mohammed Ali Road: “The allure of the perfume bazaars gave way to the sugared scents of firni, rabri and falooda sweet shops. The glittering splendour of bangle and bracelet shops surrendered to the gorgeous fractals or Persian carpets, displayed side to side for a city block.”

As far as Mumbai’s mafia world is concerned, the glimpses that the book provides show everything we have already learnt about it from the movie world and some more. When the sequel was published, Roberts announced that he is exiting public life, cutting himself off from interviews, emails and the cyber world. Shantaram enthralled many with its glimpse of the forbidden world. News of its sequel, naturally, created a lot of excitement and buzz, but it doesn’t—length notwithstanding—quite live up to the promise.

Sudipta Datta is a freelancer

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