Shantaram: An Epic Summer Read?

I thought because of its density (936 pages), Greg David Robert’s Shantaram might keep me busy for all of the humid summer evenings of Ontario.  Surprisingly, it lasted only two weeks. Shantaram is a narrative packed with exotic and hugely foreign events, names and crises of every sort.  As I breathed the humid air of Belleville, I felt that I came to know Bombay and its slums through the colour and honesty of Robert’s words.

Reviews on this book vary tremendously.  I’d have to agree with the worst and say that the protagonist/writer is self-serving and egocentric.  At times this made me weary.  On the other hand, the exotic nature of the setting and events, and the step into the completely unfamiliar territory of Bombay mafia and slum life, was very rich. Subsequently, my peeked curiosity about India has caused me to pick up Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance.

At times, Shantaram tries to give us broad lessons about life, suffering and love, and even God, but the nature of these lessons and the context (sometimes shared within the circle of killers and mafia lords) create a challenge for the reader.  Similar to all of life’s circumstances, though, the reader is responsible to be discerning.

On page 132, I found a paragraph that works for me.

“And there was a sense of certainty, in the village, that no city I’ve ever known provides: the certainty that emerges when the soil, and the generations who work it, become  interchangeable; when the identities of the human beings and the nature of the place are one and the same.  Cities are centres of constant and irreversible change.  The definitive sound of a city is the rattlesnake chatter of a jackhammer – the warning sound you hear as the business reptile strikes.  But change in the village is perennial.  What changes in nature is restored with one wheel of the seasons.  What comes from the earth always returns.  What flourishes, dies away to bloom again.” s.i.c.

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This Morning in the Garden

The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  ~Albert Camus

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  ~George Eliot

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.  ~Stanley Horowitz

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together.  For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.  ~Edwin Way Teale

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.
~John Donne

Morning Coffee With Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier’s 5 principles:

 1)All humans are sacred
2) Our world and our human lives are evolving
3) Maturity comes through working with others
4) Humans need to be encouraged to make choices and to become responsible for their own lives as well as the lives of others
5) We need to reflect and to seek truth and meaning

A friend recommended that I subscribe to the wonderful Jean Vanier’s quote of the day.  I’ve been saving them all in my archives because they have been so wonderful, thinking that I might do something with them one day, here in the Chapel.  Today’s quote was so appropriate, that I have to post it here.  It’s a fresh way of viewing old behaviours.  See what you think.  I know that when one thinks about the aesthetic of their surroundings, there is an inward peace.  It’s easier to pull out a book and read, put on a piece of music and dance or simply enjoy a cup of coffee while checking electronic messages.

Tuesday 27 March 2012
Material Things

One of the signs that a community is alive can be found in material things. Cleanliness, furnishings, the way flowers are arranged and meals prepared, are among the things which reflect the quality of people’s hearts. Some people may find material chores irksome; they would prefer to use their time to talk and be with others. They haven’t yet realized that the thousand and one small things that have to be done each day, the cycle of dirtying and cleaning, were given by God to enable us to communicate through matter. Cooking and washing floors can become a way of showing our love for others. It is celebration to be able to give.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 297