Gregory David Roberts was an armed robber and heroin addict, who escaped from an Australian prison in the early 80’s, somehow found himself on a plane to Bombay, where he lived in a local slum. There, he established a free health clinic, joined the local mafia as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. He fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, learned to speak Hindi and Marathi, and even managed to spare a little time to fall in love and act in Bollywood. Sounds pretty amazing right?
The story itself is pretty awe-inspiring. You probably thought I was kidding when you read that synopsis, didn’t you? Yes, it is a real story, but instead of penning a memoir, Roberts decides to weave his life story into a fictional pot-boiler, a script worthy of a clichéd Bollywood movie. It has everything you would expect from one – the hero, torn in a moral dilemma between right and wrong, longing for the love of a woman he can never have etc. He is a slum dweller, a ‘doctor’, a Cholera warrior, a Passport faker, a black market currency exchanger, a smuggler and gun runner, all wrapped in one. He also throws in a few goondas every few pages. Need I say more?
The protagonist of the story, Linbaba, seems an interesting character at first. His experiences as an outsider in an alien land, on the run from the Police, make an interesting premise. Sadly, this lasts only for the first 150 odd pages of the book. Post that, Linbaba becomes perpetually annoying, offering little nuggets of wisdom at every nook and cranny. When these not-so-savoury nuggets start hitting you at the rate of atleast 10 a page, all you want to do is slam the book shut. Apart from the words of wisdom, Linbaba vacillates between the moral extremes of being saviour of the slums and a thug to the local mafia don.
Roberts surrenders what could have been an interesting read by focussing a lot on his ‘artistic ability’ and trying too hard to be poetic. He uses metaphors and similes at the frequency at which a normal person would use articles. The most famous (read ridiculous) line from the book – ‘my body was her chariot and she rode me into the sun.’ I mean, seriously!
All in all, at 900+ pages, it’s way too long and drags too much. It’s a good 400 pages too long. And to think, there’s actually a sequel coming up. Read at your own risk!