Sunday, February 12, 2006
Tete-e-Tete with an Ex-Fugitive
Last Friday,after lunch,I picked up the TOI to see whether there was any interesting function for the evening.I was thrilled to see in Today's Engagements a book- reading session organised by Oxford Book Stores.Why was I thrilled when so many of these keep happening? The Chief Guest for the function was going to be Gregory David Roberts.Does it ring a bell in your ears? If not, you have missed reading a literary masterpiece.'Shantaram'.Acknowledged as an international best seller, it is a gripping thriller;a novel of high adventure based on an extraordinary true story of an exfugitive's life in the slums of Mumbai and his involvement with the Mumbai underworld. Gregory David Roberts,an armed robber and heroin addict,jumped an Australian jail,travelled to India on a forged passport and hid himself in a Cuffe parade slum.He joined an underworld don and also ran a firstaid clilnic.He learnt Hindi and Marathi,spent some time in a Mumbai prison,acted in a Bollywood movie and then fought the Mujahiddeens in Afghanistan.His luck ran out when he was caught at Frankfurt aiport and deported to Australia.After serving sentence,he totally reformed himself.He established a multimedia company and is now a fulltime writer living in Melbourne.And his book 'Shantaram' is being made into a movie with the same name.I had read the book in and out and could totally relate myself to the characters.I then and there decided to attend this session.
I was 15 minutes late into the book-reading and I could identify Linbaba on the dais.That is how he is known in Mumbai.The writer of this new book is Sonia Faleiro,a journalist with Tehelka.The book titled 'The Girl' is set in Goa and is about a girl's depression and ultimate suicide.I bought a copy of the book,got it autographed by Sonia,but I am yet to read it.It is her first book and Gregory Roberts was full of praise for the girl's maiden venture.My interest was focussed on Linbaba though.After the book reading of 'The Girl' was over I went across,introduced myself to GDRoberts(Linbaba) and told him how much I enjoyed reading his monumental 933 pages of sheer literary beauty.He was overwhelmed when I said I expected to see an ugly person in him(that is how he referred to himself in the book) but then he was far from that.Tall,wellbuilt,good features and long hair flowing on both shoulders right upto his lower back.A charming smile and a very articulate person.I congratulated him on his perseverance.His manuscripts on 'Shantaram' were trashed twice by the jailors.What a fabulous memory he must be having and the courage to go through it all over again and again!We chatted for about 5 minutes on some characters in the book and about his forthcoming books and the movie 'Shantaram'.He spoke a little bit of Hindi and Marathi when I asked him whether he still remembered these languages.He loves Mumbai and it has now become his second home.
That was a close encounter with an Ex Fugitive. And I have a maha regret.I did not carry my digicamera and my 'Shantaram' copy.