Book recommendation: Shantaram (meaning “man of peace”)

It’s rare that I find a book I read so slowly, with the pen in my hand and savouring each and every word as wisdom I’d like to keep forever with me. The book’s action happens in India, a country I really long to visit, and besides being a fascinating fiction book, it is full of words that describe life, its realms, funny, ironic but also tragic sides. It’s like a life manual with complex characters as a bonus. I’ll be sharing here some quotes that really stayed with me, hope you’ll enjoy them too. And if you’re curious for more, I invite you to read the book. It’s worth every second and page!

The story starts with a statement true for any human on planet Earth “the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life”. 

The main character is an Australian that escaped prison and flew to India to start a new life. One thing he learns is to really live in the present “Every day, when you’re on the run, is the whole of your life. Every free minute is a short story with a happy ending.”

On the same lines, about truly living your life: “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.”

An even more interesting thought from the book, reflections on what life really is “The facts of life are very simple. In the beginning we feared everything – animals, the weather, the trees, the night sky – everything except each other. Now we fear each other, and almost nothing else. No one knows why anyone does anything. No one tells the truth. No one is happy. No one is safe.”

“It’s…have you ever had that the feeling – about anything at all – that your whole life is kind of a prelude, or something – like everything you’ve ever done has been leading you up to this one point, and you knew, somehow, that one day you’d get there?”

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

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

Speaking of happiness, what are the best things in life for you? “Being listened to – really listened to – is the second best thing in the world.” According to Karla, the main female character, power was the best thing in the world, while love – “Love is the opposite of power. That’s why we fear it so much.”

Love is largely explored in the book, as India is a country where only love holds people together and makes things work “At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.”

“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.”

Life gives us lessons and teachers we can only see once the lesson is learned “A mujaheddin fighter once told me that fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”

And… “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

“It’s okay, because if we all learned what we should learn, the first time round, we wouldn’t need love at all. […] The fully mature man or woman, has about two seconds left to live.”

Fate is largely described in the book and analysed from perspectives that were quite new to me. “Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become. Sooner or later we meet the drunkard, the waster, the betrayer, the ruthless mind, and the hate-filled heart. But fate loads the dice, of course, because we usually find ourselves loving or pitying almost all of those people. And it’s impossible to despise someone you honestly pity, and to shun someone you truly love.”

“Fate always gives you two choices: the one you should take, and the one you do.” It’s ironic how true this holds for everyone in this world. Did you have this feeling?

Anyways, “Luck is what happens to you when fate gets tired of waiting.”, while “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 than they tell the truth. But fate does not lie.”

Fate relates closely to staying true to who you really are [The river] “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 that each one of us is, and can achieve.”

You can only ever be yourself. The more you try to be like someone else, the more you find yourself standing in the way.”

Lies haunt us no matter what we do, until we speak the truth and resolve to be at peace “But the lies we tell ourselves are the ghosts that haunt the empty house of midnight.” “They claim a hidden corner of our hearts, all those moments that stay with us unscreamed.”

“It’s forgiveness that makes us who we are. Without forgiveness, our species would’ve annihilated itself in endless retribution. Without forgiveness, there would be no history. Without that hope, there would be no art, for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness. Without the dream, there would be no love, for every act of love is in some way a promise to forgive. We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.”

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

“It’s a characteristic of human nature that the best qualities, called up quickly in a crisis, are very often the hardest to find in a prosperous calm.”

About the role courage plays in our lives: “Whatever you do in life, do it with courage and you won’t go far wrong…”, while “One of the ironies of courage, and the reason why we prize it so highly, is that we find it easier to be brave for someone else than we do for ourselves.

And even with our best of intentions, we can sometimes make more harm than good “And I’d learned, the hard way, that sometimes, even with the purest intentions, we make things worse when we do our best to make things better.”

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

Are we ever justified in what we do? […] 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 wouldn’t occur without our action.”

Do you have a place you feel like home? I do – and I relate so well to this description, as I feel the same about the city I live in now. “To my eyes, the city was beautiful. It was wild and exciting […] Above all else, Bombay was free – exhilarating free. I saw that liberated, unconstrained spirit wherever I looked, and I found myself responding to it with the whole of my heart.”

I absolutely loved the description of dreams in this book “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.”

Intuition has a very fascinating way it is described “What I am saying is that 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.”

Suffering is about losing control “The strong man can master his feelings so completely that it is almost impossible to make him suffer. When we do suffer things, like pain and so, it means we have lost control.”

“When we’re young, we think that suffering is something that’s been done to us. When we get older – when the steel door slams shut, in one way or another – we know that real suffering is measured by what’s taken away from us.”

“I don’t know what scares me more: the madness that smashed people down, or their ability to endure it.”

And probably my most favourite quote from all the book

“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, sorrow and its truth. In the end that’s all we have – to hold on tight until the dawn.”

In the end, “The truth is that, no matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love.” What are the thoughts or acts of love that will change your life today?

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