In the past two years, I’ve read three books set in India. The first, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts was an adventure–packed novel set in India and based on the true-life experiences of an escaped Australian convict (roman-a-clef). After he is robbed, he is forced to live in the slums of Mumbai where he sets up a free health clinic for the poor. He becomes involved with Bollywood and the underworld, travels to Africa, goes to an Indian prison, assists the freedom fighters in Afghanistan and falls in love. This novel is almost a thousand pages of gripping, nail-biting adventure that was extremely difficult if not impossible to put down. In the end, I was left wondering which parts of the novel were true and which were fiction. When I subsequently visited India, I visited Leopold’s which is the setting for many of the scenes in the novel. They had the novel Shantaram on sale there as well as other Shantaram souvenirs. I spoke to a waiter about Gregory and he brought a photo that was recently taken of the author there. Unfortunately, Gregory was in Australia at the time so we didn’t manage to get an autograph or find out exactly which parts of the book did happen…
The other two books were White Tiger by Aravind Adega, a Booker prize winner and Maximum City (non-fiction) by Suketu Mehta. These were quite different from Shantaram in that they were much more negative about the country.
White Tiger is a gripping novel about a poor Indian villager who eventually becomes a wealthy entrepreneur in a very unconventional manner which highlights the problems in India and Indian society.
Maximum City is an insider’s view of Mumbai, warts and all. It gives an insight into Mumbai’s underworld, the backdoors of Bollywood and the many tragedies that befall its inhabitants.
All of the above are definitely worth reading.