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Member No.: 1
Joined: 5-November 06
Shantaram re-visit #1 The smells of Bombay
While I was going back over my conversation with GDR, my notes and our previous discussion here on JDR, I decided to open this revisit with a quote from Greg when I asked him this:
JDR: Your story opened talking about the senses of the city, the smells the, the different looks of the people and the intense heat. These were things that you wrote about noticing in the city. When you have traveled away and returned, are those things still what you notice most about the city?
GDR: Oh sure, every time. I have a driver that meets me at the airport and so instead of getting on a bus or in a taxi, which I did for the first few when I first came back, I’ve been back two and a half years now, when I come back now because I travel so much… I do public speaking. I did fourteen trips out of the country last year to do speeches and so on. I come back and I have my guy waiting for me, I have a driver with a car and the first thing is get the windows down so I can smell the air on my way back into the city so it’s still the same indeed, and when you come to Bombay the first time there’s a smell that you’ll get it’s the smell of the air, it’s so different to any where else, you’ll say OK I get it, now I know.. every time you come back to Bombay that smell will be there and you think ‘allllll riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!’
From the first chapter: "The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India....."
"The next thing I noticed was the heat. I stood in airport queues, not five minutes from the conditioned air of the plane, and my clothes clung to sudden sweat."
"Then there were the people..........every different face and form of that extravagant variety, that incomparable beauty, India."
Tell us what affected you about the way he began this epic story? Are there places that you can relate to in the same way Greg relates to Bombay? Why? How? What does he do that makes you engage with Lin?
Member No.: 3
Joined: 28-November 06
I was hooked on the character of Lin right from the very first paragraph. It's without doubt one of THE most powerful opening paragraphs I have ever read. From those first 9 lines, you knew you were going on a journey, not to just a different country and a different way of life but a journey into someone mind. Someone who would turn their life around and become a better person.
I think many people relate to different moments/places/events in their lives through smells. The smell of Pine forests reminds me of my holidays, the smell of coffee reminds me of my favourite shopping mall and (don't laugh) the smell of popcorn reminds me of Pirates! The sense of smell is a powerful thing, it's one of your most powerful senses. Think of when you have a cold virus, how many times do you complain that you can't smell anything? Without it you are missing making a vital imprint in your mind.
For me I could instantly 'see' Lin. His character is so clear in my mind. Maybe this is because I know Johnny will be playing him, but it's almost as if there is a connection, one that I can't explain, but one that I fully understand. Rarely do I read a book and feel such an emotional attachment to a character. The first time around I had to stop at a certain place because I found it too emotionally draining to continue reading, I just couldn't read any further,so I've had to reread from the begining for this discussion. I'm not sure how Greg engages me so fully with the character of Lin, it just happened. There was a connection. That's the only way I can explain it.
Member No.: 84
Joined: 28-January 07
The description of the suffocating moist heat in Bombay reminded me of how, as I was getting off the plane in Jamaica, my clothes melted onto my skin immediately. Sticky and cloying. I was dressed for 50 degree F weather. I have no doubt that it is even worse in Bombay, and it's a bit sickening to think of it, but like anything else, one can become accustomed to it; the blood actually thins in adaptation.
The conflicting cacophony of scents assaults the brain, but that, too, becomes normal after a relatively short time--until you've been away from it.
I have highlighted in my book on page 4, "Karla once called it the worst good smell in the world." and, "The choking humidity makes amphibians of us all".
Such description makes it possible to get the full impact of Lin's first physical impression of Bombay, as if we were right there with him.
The first page in Chapter one, (pg. 3) where Lin summarises his long and crowded story, is very effective in grabbing the reader immediately and making you want all the horrific detail of how he survived to tell it and choose forgiveness.
GDR has an astounding way of expressing himself in the most profound philosophical metaphors. It's one of, if not THE the most inspiring books I have ever read. it is also a book that should be read many, many times.
After reading Shantaram, one can understand why he is demand as a speaker. He has learned the (extreme!) hard way but learned well the preciousness of life. He is something of a Guru.
Member No.: 308
Joined: 8-March 07
I rely on my senses a lot ~ how things feel, taste, look, smell, etc. ~ for information about how/who I am. We all do that to a certain degree in our daily lives, but when we're traveling I think that becomes heightened, and the information we get from our senses becomes a measure of how comfortable we are in new surroundings, physically and emotionally. The thing about India is that most of us don't have a sensory template for anything there; everything is so different. So, right away, the rug is pulled out from under the unsuspecting visitor and it's either sink or swim in a maelstrom of sensory overload!
I loved GDR's descriptions of Mumbai. I visited there in the mid 60's and the experience changed my life. His words took me right back, to the smells and sights and sounds of the city. And the HEAT!!! It is indescribable, though GDR does a good job trying! It's nice to know nothing's changed since I was there ~ which doesn't surprise me. India is, indeed, timeless. It will always assault the senses and open you up!
Member No.: 11
Joined: 11-January 07
I didnt get around to finishing my 2nd read of Shantaram ... life for me has just been one roller coaster ride as of late .. but it is a good ride I have been on!!! So I will just have to rely on this ole memory of mine when we get a tad bit further into the book .. lol
Its Gregs usage of the english language for me. He has such a profound way of stating things. The way it comes across to me. There are so many ways.. words that he could just use.. but he uses certain precise words and adjectives... that it just catapults me.. you there. He makes it so easy for you to visualize of where you are.. but then to be able to "feel it".. "to smell it".. just is amazing.. a very good writer he is.
Member No.: 277
Joined: 26-February 07
Tell us what affected you about the way he began this epic story? How? What does he do that makes you engage with Lin?
The smell, the heat, the people (huge variety of ethnicities)... "I pushed through alone to the SLAP and STING of sunlight ..." (p.5)
and .. (P.4...the whole first paragraph) That first Bombay minute... the sweet, SWEATING smell of HOPE, ... the SOUR stifled smell of GREED, ... blue SKIN-smell of the SEA... BLOOD-METAL smell of the machines...
He uses incredible choice of words to describe something..words that normally wouldn't apply...is what draws me into kind of being there, sitting on his shoulder, taking it all in.
Hope doesn't sweat, the sea doesn't have a skin, and machines don't have blood. It really makes you think, and BE there. The intensity of the choice of words. He takes me farther than most, except other of Johnny's reading selections that is. He is BEING there, and fully emersed in it. That's what makes me engage with Lin (and Johnny).
Are there places that you can relate to in the same way Greg relates to Bombay? Why?
Well, I've been to Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Korea. My next stop will most likely be India as my other half will be moving there. I have the most experience and memories with the numerous times I"ve gotten off the plane in Japan. The way the wall of local air literally HITS you. It takes many trips to really understand what the smell in the air is, to be able to describe it. In Japan, it's the : 1) Humidity of asia that almost immediately soaks your shirt, combined with 2) Tatami of the houses, and 3) Incense of the shrines, and 4) Exhaust of machines.
In Japan I don't so much smell the Sweat or Spices, restaurants, but I smelled that when I arrived in Malaysia. When re-reading the 1-4 of my list it looks the same, but I'm sure the experience of it in India is very different, and closer to what I smelled when arriving in Thailand. Many of these things are apparent in large cities. Kind of when you arrive in LA. LA has a distinctive smell also.
It's an incredible experience and feeling of growth, or rebirth when you go to a FOREIGN place and feel as though you're coming HOME. That's a pretty invigorating and energizing experince that Gregory is experiencing. I can relate when he says:
you’ll say OK I get it, now I know.. every time you come back to Bombay that smell will be there and you think ‘allllll riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!’
The smells let you know what you're dealing with. It's your first plot on the local map. Not to mention the other senses of sight and sound. Touching and tasting comes later, and reels me in the same way, when he makes his first 'thunk on his head' that it's real. (p.7, 3rd paragraph)
Member No.: 73
Joined: 27-January 07
Like Jesse, I was hooked from the first paragraph - As I read the first pages of Shantaram, I knew that I would be reading the entire book. That I would be taking a journey with Lin - one that would not only be fascinating but also uncomfortable at times. I have found myself going back to re-read some sections and also skimming some. I have found myself putting the book aside at times because I had things going on in my personal life and I knew I couldn't deal with the book at that time. In reading the book, I was not surprised when any of this happened because I knew that was how it would be when I first started reading it.
It was this sentence (the final one of the first paragraph) and the continuation into the next paragraph that did it for me...
"And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.
In my case, it's a long story, and a crowded one. I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher what lost his integrity in crime and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum security prison."
Ironically, regarding the description of the heat, smell and people, as I began to read the book, the husband of a friend went to India for business. He was miserable the entire time and his descriptions were certainly similar to GDR's (although not quite so poetic.) Unlike Lin, Jim doesn't care if he ever goes back - for Lin, arriving in Bombay was a homecoming of sorts.
I think of a couple of places that I associate with sights and smells...
I grew up in a small community in central Iowa and now live in suburban Chicago. Although my family has since moved to another farming community, and even though I have lived in the Chicago area almost 20 years and truly consider it my home, there is something about the sight of the wide open spaces - either barren land during certain times of the year or the fertile land giving birth to the crops that brings an inner peace as I am driving home to see my family. And the different smells (good AND bad) also bring the same sense of contentment.
Walking up Main Street in the Magic Kindom at Walt Disney World, the sights, sounds and smells, also bring a sense of excitement to me - there are so many happy memories that I relive each time we visit.
I did that without a single drop of rum! -- Captain Jack Sparrow
It is to be happy and at the same time to be aware of it. --Vanessa Paradis
Member No.: 308
Joined: 8-March 07
Beautifully described, Depputante! And thanks for the samples of GDR's decriptions also. He does have a way with words that puts you right there! I've traveled to Bangkok, Malaysia and Japan also, but it was in the same era as when I went to India. Most of those places have changed over time and I'm sure I wouldn't recognize them anymore. But Bombay and India, at least according to GDR's descriptions, sound remarkably the same. And it is unique there; unlike any other place in the world. I also think there's something very romantic about it...I'm not sure why...maybe because, as GDR says, there's so much 'heart', beating so close to the surface. The art, music, dance ~ everything is just so voluputous! You're in for a real treat if/when you go, Dyane! Perhaps we JDReaders ought to go along...?
Member No.: 1
Joined: 5-November 06
WOO HOOO! I see y'all have taken off really well. I can't help but add what I said during the first discussion...I was raised in an area that had a large number of fragrant trees and whenever I smell that one particular fragrance, it takes my mind "home."
Member No.: 63
Joined: 27-January 07
I have to admit that when I first heard of this book from JDR and went to buy it, I was hesitant when I saw how many pages it was and I didn't think I could get through it. Am I ever glad that I decided to buy it! The first page of this book grabbed my attention immediately and I was not disappointed throughout the entire story. GDR has a an unbelievable way of describing things. Some of my favorites are headache green to describe the paint on the walls and sixty minute chairs to describe how uncomfortable they were.
Of all of my senses, I think my sense of smell is the weakest so it has to be a real powerful scent, good or bad, for me to take notice. Probably the most memorable nasty smell to me travelling was when I was in Venice. The city itself was so unique and beautiful however there were some canals where the water smelled like a sewer! So here you are, in a gondola, trying to get romantic with your honey and that smell is making you turn green. But, as was stated in the book, it was the worst good smell in the world.
I've visited many places and I guess I can honestly say that especially when I'm in another country, I may love their unique smells but I also love when I smell something that reminds me of home.
Member No.: 21
Joined: 26-January 07
I've enjoyed reading all of your posts. I haven't been to India and so I loved Robert's description in the book. Interesting those of you that have been there to read your ideas, too.
I agree that smells can bring back a flood of memories. Rose Sparrow I know exactly what you mean about Venice! It always looked so romantic in pics and movies and I had the same experience as you. It still is an intersting city and I really enjoyed it there.
As many of you have said, what kept me involved with SHTRam was the way Roberts uses language. It is some of the most descriptive writing I've ever read. I use examples from the book when I teach descriptive writing to my students----especially that first paragraph-----what a great hook into the story! Can't really add to what's been said--great comments!
"It is not the destination so much as the journey" ~Capt. Jack Sparrow
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