A Preview of India thru Shantaram, Part One

It’s only fitting that my Pilates instructor is reading ‘Shantaram’, a sprawling epic set in India written by Gregory David Roberts. A few days ago, I was at a store looking at Patagonia gear when the woman behind the counter, upon finding out I was traveling to India, asked me if I had read ‘Shantaram’. One of the best written books I’ve ever read, my copy is filled with highlighted passages throughout the book. My friend who is accompanying on the trip is also reading (parts of) ‘Shantaram’. I just downloaded it on the Kindle app early this morning, with the intent that I may reread it on the flight to India. To walk down memory lane, I’ve written some of my favorite quotes; don’t worry, there are no spoilers, but I do believe most of them will spark some thought, maybe more…

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.

“The past reflects eternally between two mirrors – the bright mirror of words and the dark one, full of things we didn’t do or say.”

“Civilisation, after all, is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit.”

“When you judge the power that is in a person, you must judge their capacities as both friend and as enemy.”

“Friendship is something that gets harder to understand, every damn year of my life. Friendship is like a kind of algebra test that nobody passes. In my worst moods, I think the best you can say is that a friend’s anyone you don’t despise.”

“There’s something so confident and open-hearted and … and brave about America, and the American people.”

“What we call cowardice is often just another name for being taken by surprise, and courage is seldom any better than simply being well prepared.”

“Indian people know how to shout with their eyes.”

“…sometimes, even with the purest of intentions, we make things worse when we do our best to make things better.”

“Ask any man with a long enough experience of prisons, and he’ll tell you that all it takes to harden a man’s heart is a system of justice.”

“The starving, the dead, the slaves. And through it all, the purr and rustle of Prabaker’s voice. There’s a truth that’s deeper than experience. It’s beyond what we can see, or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We’re helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabaker told it to me, just as I’m telling it to you now.”

This is not like any other place. This is India. Everyone who comes here falls in love – most of us fall in love many times over. And the Indians, they love most of all … But more than any other people in the world, the Indians know how to love one another.

“Optimism is the first cousin of love, and it’s exactly like love in three ways: it’s pushy, it has no real sense of humor, and it turns up when you least expect it.”

“I think that we all, each one of us, we all have to earn our future… I think the future is like anything else that’s important. It has to be earned. If we don’t earn it, we don’t have a future at all. And if we don’t earn it, if we don’t deserve it, we have to live in the present, more or less forever. Or worse, we have to live in the past. I think that’s probably what love is – a way of earning the future.”

If you could be happy, really happy, for just a while, but you knew from the start that it would end in sadness, and bring pain afterwards, would you choose to have that happiness or would you avoid it?

“I want everything… You know, I said that once, to a friend of mine, and he told me that the real trick is to want nothing, and to succeed in getting it.”

“A lot of the bad stuff in the world wasn’t really that bad until someone tried to change it.”

“I want to believe that if we do it right, everything and everyone can change for the better.”

Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender before you win.

“I know that the scrambled fighting and courteous deference were both expressions of the one philosophy: the doctrine of necessity.”

“The real hypocrisy, I came to realise, was in the eyes and minds and criticisms of those who came from lands of plenty, where no one had to fight for a seat on a train.”

“There’s a kind of luck that’s not much more than being in the right place at the right time, a kind of inspiration that’s not much more than doing the right thing in the right way, and both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment.”

“I caught Prabaker’s eye. The look of joy and pride I found there was a kind of prayer.”

“I was thinking of another kind of river, one that runs through every one of us, no matter where we come from, all over the world. It’s the river of the heart, and the heart’s desire. It’s the pure, essential truth of what each one of us is, and can achieve. All my life I’d been a fighter. I was always ready, too ready, to fight for what I loved, and against what I deplored. In the end, I became the expression of that fight, and my real nature was concealed behind a mask of menace and hostility. The message of my face and my body’s movement was, like that of a lot of other hard men. Don’t fuck with me. In the end, I became so good at expressing the sentiment that the whole of my life became the message.”

“…the women had agreed with her choice for my first name. It was Shantaram, which means man of peace, or man of God’s peace.”

“A man can make his way in the city with his heart and his soul crushed within a clenched fist; but to live in a village, he has to unfurl his heart and his soul in his eyes.”

“…a dream is the place where a wish and a fear meet. When the wish and the fear are exactly the same, …, we call the dream a nightmare.”

“It’s a fact of life on the run that you often love more people than you trust. For people in the safe world, of course, exactly the opposite is true.”

“In this India we can see everybody sleeping, at some times. And we say that the face, when it is in sleeping, is the friend of the world.”

“Waiting for nothing, that is what kills the heart of a man, isn’t it? Now the people are waiting for something. Waiting for you, they are. And you are a really something. ”

There is no act of faith more beautiful than the generosity of the very poor.”

“We have a saying in Persian – Sometimes the lion must roar, just to remind the horse of his fear.”

“…naturally, God is impossible. That is the first proof that He exists.”

“…you know fate? Kismet is the word, in the Urdu language – fate has every power over us, but two. Fate cannot control our free will, and fate cannot lie. Men lie, to themselves more than to others, and to others more often than they tell the truth. But fate does not lie.”

“Reality – as you see it, and as most people see it – is nothing more than an illusion. There is another reality, beyond what we see with our eyes. You have to feel your way into that reality with your heart. There is no other way.”

“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men. It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men – it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone – the noblest man alive or the most wicked – has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”

“We can’t really know what a pleasure it is to run in our own language until we’re forces to stumble in someone else’s.”

“…suffering is the way we test love… suffering is also a test of our love for God… pain and suffering are connected, but they are not the same thing… what we learn from pain is always individual, for ourselves alone, but what we learn from suffering is what unites us as one human people…. Suffering is exactly like happiness, but backwards. One is the mirror image of the other, and has no real meaning or existence without the other.”

“…suffering is happiness backwards”

“When we’re young, we think that suffering is something that’s done to us. When we get older… we know that real suffering is measured by what’s taken away from us.”

“I don’t know what frightens me more,
the power that crushes us
or our endless ability to endure it.”

“I felt myself to be at the mercy of personalities that were stronger, or at least more mysterious, than my own.”

“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorry and its truth.”

“They always defend themselves by saying that they are just following orders, or just doing their job, and it’s nothing personal, and if they don’t do it, someone else surely will. They are the hundred million cowards who know what is going on, but say nothing, while they sign the paper that puts one man before a firing squad, or condemns one million men to the slower death of famine.”

“This formula – the one million, the ten million, the hundred million – this is the real truth of all politics. Marx was wrong. It is not a question of classes, you see, because all the classes are in the hands of this tiny few.”

Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Those are the three big questions.

“...you are not a man until you give your love, truly and freely, to a child. And you are not a good man until you earn the love, truly and freely, of a child in return.

“A shock is like a surprise, when you are not ready.”

“News tells you what people did. Gossip tells you how much they enjoyed it.”

“Only a wicked man would derive such benefit from good works. A good man, on the other hand, would simply be worn out and bad tempered.

“When we act, even with the best of intentions, when we interfere with the world, we always risk a new disaster that mightn’t be of our making, but that wouldn’t occur without our action. Some of the worst wrongs, were caused by people who tried to change things.”

“…shame gives exultation its purpose, and exultation give shame its reward… it isn’t cruelty or shame that characterizes the human race. It’s forgiveness that makes us what we are… We live on because we love, and we love because we can forgive.”

…nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.

“We carry oceans inside of us, in our blood and our sweat.

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