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Punjabi Penetration
By Buzz Burza
June, 2006, 14:27

ccasionally a book comes along that is of such import that one wants to shout about it from the nearest rooftop. And not fall off, of course.

Over the months, I have occasionally referred and deferred to a Delhi book club that my wife and I grace. The core membership is composed of Indian academics, although there is a contingent of foreigners who beat feet to the meet once a month to discuss a book, followed by dinner.

In our May gathering it was decided that June should be skipped because of the hot season and that by almost universal acclaim, the next book would be Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. And my heart sank because, truth be known, I have a secret fear of big books and have managed to avoid the commitment until this one.
Over the months, the Indian press has given a great deal of positive coverage to this book that I knew was about, and by, a bad-guy-gone-good. But I didn’t know how bad or how good until I read the first page and was immediately hooked like a Wisconsin lake carp, that is, in a very rare and special way. It is splendiferously cyngiomatic tale that cured me of my silly fear of hefty tomes.
The epic story is based on the eight years Roberts spent in Bombay while on the lam after escaping from a maximum-security prison in Australia. Bombay is a city I know well, having lived there for several years, and I can attest to the man's ability to convey effectively what this city of cities is all about.

But it is much more than a demimonde travelogue, as Roberts addresses fundamental questions of love and redemption, all wrapped up in his persona of writer and intellectual of the first magnitude. Underlying all, his incredible chops.
Since we are all involved with the word writ, I strongly feel the 933 (Excellent number! — Ed.) pages of this enthralling, expertly wrought book should be part of everyone’s game plan, and pronto.

Read the first three paragraphs. If they do not convince you then leave it be. Goodbye and good luck
As sort of a postscript to last month’s column regarding that sad saga of the brainy Harvard teen who found herself in a plagiaristic soup, I was most pleased to find out that Abha Dawesar’s coming of age novel, Babyji has won another award. Our book club read this sweet, saucy scandalous story several months ago when the author was in Delhi and attended the function. Her physician mother has been a long-standing member of the club and proudly brought daughter along.
The parallels between the two authors are similar. They both are single children whose mothers are doctors. Dawesar also attended Harvard although she studied political philosophy before embarking on a career in business whereas Visanathan has her eyes set on a business career while in her second year of university.

I guess you should also put Babyji in your shopping cart too. During our discussion of her book, Dawesar said that the published book was only one third of her original manuscript that would have put it in the same heft league as Shantaram, which I feel needs no editing at all.

Both books are fine, must-reads for any serious writer. 

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Buzz Burza is a freelance writer, photographer, teacher, lecturer, film actor and print distribution consultant living in New Delhi, India. Email:

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