Gregory David Roberts tells his amazing life story from his jail break in Australia to his time as a doctor in a slum (PS - there are a lot of kindle highlights here so just browse through them but there are a lot of gems...)

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways
  1. It took a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.
  2. I’d escaped from prison almost two years before, but the fact of the fugitive life is that you have to keep on escaping, every day and every night. And while not completely free, never completely free, there was hope and fearful excitement in the new: a new passport, a new country, and new lines of excited dread on my young face, under the grey eyes.
  3. When I smiled my relief and surprise, the man grinned back at me with that perfect sincerity we fear and call simple-minded.
  4. It seemed impossible that a modern airport, full of prosperous and purposeful travellers, was only kilometres away from those crushed and cindered dreams. My first impression was that some catastrophe had taken place, and that the slums were refugee camps for the shambling survivors. I learned, months later, that they were survivors, of course, those slum-dwellers: the catastrophes that had driven them to the slums from their villages were poverty, famine, and bloodshed.
  5. As the kilometres wound past, as the hundreds of people in those slums became thousands, and tens of thousands, my spirit writhed. I felt defiled by my own health and the money in my pockets. If you feel it at all, it’s a lacerating guilt, that first confrontation with the wretched of the earth. I’d robbed banks, and dealt drugs, and I’d been beaten by prison warders until my bones broke. I’d been stabbed, and I’d stabbed men in return. I’d escaped from a hard prison full of hard men, the hard way—over the front wall. Still, that first encounter with the ragged misery of the slum, heartbreak all the way to the horizon, cut into my eyes. For a time, I ran onto the knives.
  6. The slums went on, and their sheer ubiquity wore down my foreigner’s pieties. A kind of wonder possessed me. I began to look beyond the immensity of the slum societies, and to see the people who lived within them.
  7. And everywhere that I looked, people smiled and laughed.
  8. ‘It’s a city thing, man,’ the short one explained. ‘All cities are the same. It’s not just here. It’s the same in New York, or Rio, or Paris. They’re all dirty and they’re all crazy.
  9. NOTE: echoes to what im concurrently reading in West's book Scale about citikes beikng similar as they are physical manifestations of human nature
  10. The contrast between the familiar and the exceptional was everywhere around me. A bullock cart was drawn up beside a modern sports car at a traffic signal. A man squatted to relieve himself behind the discreet shelter of a satellite dish. An electric forklift truck was being used to unload goods from an ancient wooden cart with wooden wheels.
  11. NOTE: this struck me too while in india
  12. face. I felt like the white bwana, reducing him to my beast of burden, and I hated it. But he laughed, that small Indian man.
  13. ‘How are you liking our Bombay?’ ‘I love it,’ I answered, and it was true. To my eyes, the city was beautiful. It was wild and exciting. Buildings that were British Raj-romantic stood side to side with modern, mirrored business towers. The haphazard slouch of neglected tenements crumbled into lavish displays of market vegetables and silks. I heard music from every shop and passing taxi. The colours were vibrant. The fragrances were dizzyingly delicious. And there were more smiles in the eyes on those crowded streets than in any other place I’d ever known. Above all else, Bombay was free—exhilaratingly free. I saw that liberated, unconstrained spirit wherever I looked, and I found myself responding to it with the whole of my heart. Even the flare of shame I’d felt when I first saw the slums and the street beggars dissolved in the understanding that they were free, those men and women. No-one drove the beggars from the streets. No-one banished the slum-dwellers. Painful as their lives were, they were free to live them in the same gardens and avenues as the rich and powerful. They were free. The city was free. I loved it.
  14. The voice, Afghan matchmakers say, is more than half of love.
  15. The legends say that the loved one is instantly recognised because she’s loved in every gesture, every expression of thought, every movement, every sound, and every mood that prays in her eyes.
  16. When I got to know him well enough, when I began to cherish his friendship, I discovered that Prabaker believed with the whole of his heart that his smile made a difference, in people’s hearts and in the world. He was right, of course, but it took me a long time to understand that truth, and to accept it.
  17. Prabaker had just then decided to like me, and for him that meant he was bound to a scrupulous and literal honesty in everything he said or did. It was at once his most endearing and most irritating quality, that he always told me the whole of the truth.
  18. He was right about the price of the room, of course. We could’ve saved a dollar or two per day. And haggling is the economical thing to do. Most of the time, it’s the shrewd and amiable way to conduct your business in India. But he was wrong, too. The manager, Anand, and I became good friends, in the years that followed. The fact that I trusted him on sight and didn’t haggle, on that first day, that I didn’t try to make a buck out of him, that I worked on an instinct that respected him and was prepared to like him, endeared me to him. He told me so, more than once.
  19. The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There’s nowhere else in the world where that’s quite so true.
  20. The past reflects eternally between two mirrors—the bright mirror of words and deeds, and the dark one, full of things we didn’t do or say.
  21. I was numb, in those first years after the escape: shell-shocked by the disasters that warred in my life. My heart moved through deep and silent water. No-one, and nothing, could really hurt me. No-one, and nothing, could make me very happy. I was tough, which is probably the saddest thing you can say about a man.
  22. ‘Yes. You’re a good listener. That’s dangerous, because it’s so hard to resist. Being listened to—really listened to—is the second-best thing in the world.’ ‘What’s the first best thing?’ ‘Everybody knows that. The best thing in the world is power.’ ‘Oh, is it?’ I asked, laughing. ‘What about sex?’ ‘No. Apart from the biology, sex is all about power. That’s why it’s such a rush.’
  23. ‘Now be fair, Karla. Tell us, Lin. I would like to know.’ ‘Well, if you press me, I’d have to say freedom.’ ‘The freedom to do what?’ he asked, putting a little laugh in the last word. ‘I don’t know. Maybe just the freedom to say no. If you’ve got that much freedom, you really don’t need any more.’
  24. During the time since the escape, I’d learned that telling people a small part of the truth—that I was a writer—provided me with a useful and flexible cover story.
  25. And writing was one of the things that saved me: the discipline and abstraction of putting my life into words, every day, helped me to cope with shame and its first cousin, despair.
  26. There is a difference between the dishonest bribe and the honest bribe, Didier Levy once said to me. The dishonest bribe is the same in every country, but the honest bribe is India’s alone. I smiled when he said that, because I knew what he meant. India was open. India was honest. And I liked that from the first day.
  27. ‘It’s a very sad thing, to be in no hurry, and I would not be so free in admitting it, if I were you,’ he said, still staring at the bottle. When he wasn’t smiling his face looked flabby, slack, and pallid grey. He was unwell, but it was the kind of unwell you have to work at. ‘We have a saying in Marseilles: a man in no hurry gets nowhere fast. I have been in no hurry for eight years.’
  28. Civilisation, after all, is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit.’
  29. When you judge the power that is in a person, you must judge their capacities as both friend and as enemy. And there is no-one in this city that makes a worse or more dangerous enemy than Karla.’
  30. course you do! And so do I, regret … things I have done … and not done. But not Karla. And that is why she is like the others, the few others in this room, who have real power. She has a heart like theirs, and you and I do not.
  31. The first rule of black business everywhere is: never let anyone know what you’re thinking. Didier’s corollary to the rule was: always know what the other thinks of you.
  32. Imprisonment meant years without a sunrise, a sunset, or a night sky, locked in a cell for sixteen hours each day, from early afternoon to late morning. Imprisonment meant that they took away the sun and the moon and the stars. Prison wasn’t hell, but there was no heaven in it, either. In its own way, that was just as bad.
  33. She would’ve done anything for him. Some women are like that. Some loves are like that. Most loves are like that, from what I can see. Your heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your self-respect and your independence. After a while you start throwing people out—your friends, everyone you used to know. And it’s still not enough. The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know it’s going to take you down with it. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of girls here. I think that’s why I’m sick of love.’
  34. Magic, the trick that connects the ordinary to the impossible, was the invisible river that ran through every street and beating heart in Bombay in those years, and nothing, from the postal service to the pleading of beggars, worked without a measure of it.
  35. What we call cowardice is often just another name for being taken by surprise, and courage is seldom any better than simply being well prepared.
  36. suddenly realised that if I wanted to stay there, in Bombay, the city I’d already fallen in love with, I had to change. I had to get involved. The city wouldn’t let me be a watcher, aloof and apart. If I wanted to stay, I had to expect that she would drag me into the river of her rapture, and her rage. Sooner or later, I knew, I would have to step off the pavement and into the bloody crowd, and put my body on the line.
  37. Indian actors are the greatest in the world, one of them said once, because Indian people know how to shout with their eyes. That back-street fried-foods cook stared at me, with shouting eyes, and stopped me as surely as if he’d pushed a hand into my chest. I couldn’t move. In my own eyes, there were words—I’m sorry, I’m sorry that you have to do this work, I’m sorry that your world, your life, is so hot and dark and unremembered, I’m sorry that I’m intruding
  38. I’d learned, the hard way, that sometimes, even with the purest intentions, we make things worse when we do our best to make things better.
  39. There’s a truth that’s deeper than experience. It’s beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We’re helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabaker told it to me, just as I’m telling it to you now.
  40. You must be careful, here, with the real affection of those you meet. This is not like any other place. This is India. Everyone who comes here falls in love—most of us fall in love many times over. And the Indians, they love most of all. Your little friend may be beginning to love you. There is nothing strange in this. I say it from a long experience of this country, and especially of this city. It happens often, and easily, for the Indians. That is how they manage to live together, a billion of them, in reasonable peace.
  41. NOTE: taxi driver explanatjon of arranged marriage makes a bit more sense now as it takes some of the emotion out
  42. People like Vikram, people who can wear an obsession with panache, always win me over because their honesty speaks directly to my heart.
  43. ‘You know, I said that once, to a friend of mine, and he told me that the real trick in life is to want nothing, and to succeed in getting it.’
  44. ‘It’s good to know what’s wrong with the world,’ Karla said, after a while. ‘But it’s just as important to know that sometimes, no matter how wrong it is, you can’t change it. A lot of the bad stuff in the world wasn’t really that bad until someone tried to change it.’
  45. felt horrible about it, you know? I told Prabaker I’d never take another shower in that hotel again. Not ever.’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘He said, No, no you don’t understand. He called it a people-job. It’s only because of tourists like me, he explained, that those men have a job. And he told me that each man is supporting a family of his own from his wages. You should have three showers, four showers, even five showers every day, he told me.’ She nodded in agreement. ‘Then he told me to watch the men while they got themselves ready to run through the city again, pushing their water wagon. And I think I knew what he meant, what he wanted me to see. They were strong, those guys. They were strong and proud and healthy. They weren’t begging or stealing. They were working hard to earn their way, and they were proud of it. When they ran off into the traffic, with their strong muscles, and getting a few sly looks from some of the young Indian girls, I saw that their heads were up and their eyes straight ahead.’
  46. ‘Tomorrow,’ she said, ‘when you go to Prabaker’s village, try to relax completely, and go with the experience. Just … let yourself go. Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender before you win.’
  47. Wisdom is just cleverness, with all the guts kicked out of it. I’d rather be clever than wise, any day. Most of the wise people I know give me a headache, but I never met a clever man or woman I didn’t like. If I was giving wise advice—which I’m not—I’d say don’t get drunk, don’t spend all your money, and don’t fall in love with a pretty village girl. That would be wise. That’s the difference between clever and wise. I prefer to be clever, and that’s why I told you to surrender, when you get to the village, no matter what you find when you get there.
  48. At first, on that first journey out of the city into India, I found such sudden politeness infuriating after the violent scramble to board the train. It seemed hypocritical for them to show such deferential concern over a nudge with a foot when, minutes before, they’d all but pushed one another out of the windows. Now, long years and many journeys after that first ride on a crowded rural train, I know that the scrambled fighting and courteous deference were both expressions of the one philosophy: the doctrine of necessity. The amount of force and violence necessary to board the train, for example, was no less and no more than the amount of politeness and consideration necessary to ensure that the cramped journey was as pleasant as possible afterwards. What is necessary? That was the unspoken but implied and unavoidable question everywhere in India. When I understood that, a great many of the characteristically perplexing aspects of public life became comprehensible: from the acceptance of sprawling slums by city authorities, to the freedom that cows had to roam at random in the midst of traffic; from the toleration of beggars on the streets, to the concatenate complexity of the bureaucracies; and from the gorgeous, unashamed escapism of Bollywood movies, to the accommodation of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa, and Bangladesh, in a country that was already too crowded with sorrows and needs of its own.
  49. No discovery pleased me more, on that first excursion from the city, than the full translation of the famous Indian head-wiggle. The weeks I’d spent in Bombay with Prabaker had taught me that the shaking or wiggling of the head from side to side—that most characteristic of Indian expressive gestures—was the equivalent of a forward nod of the head, meaning Yes. I’d also discerned the subtler senses of I agree with you, and Yes, I would like that. What I learned, on the train, was that a universal message attached to the gesture, when it was used as a greeting, which made it uniquely useful.
  50. We shook hands, and stared into one another’s eyes. Prabaker and his father had the same almost perfectly round face and the same upturned, button nose. However, where Prabaker’s face was completely open, guileless, and unlined, his father’s face was deeply wrinkled; and when he wasn’t smiling, there was a weary shadow that closed over his eyes. It was as if he’d sealed shut some doors in himself, and stood guard over them, with his eyes alone. There was pride in his face, but he was sad, and tired, and worried. It took me a long time to realise that all farmers, everywhere, are just as tired, worried, proud, and sad: that the soil you turn and the seed you sow are all you really have, when you live and work the Earth. And sometimes, much too often, there’s nothing more than that—the silent, secret, heartbreaking joy God puts into things that bloom and grow—to help you face the fear of hunger and the dread of evil.
  51. NOTE: beautiful language and imagery
  52. Surrender is at the heart of the Indian experience. I gave in.
  53. It was only there, in the village in India, on that first night, adrift on the raft of murmuring voices, and my eyes filled with stars; only then, when another man’s father reached out to comfort me, and placed a poor farmer’s rough and calloused hand on my shoulder; only there and then did I see and feel the torment of what I’d done, and what I’d become—the pain and the fear and the waste; the stupid, unforgivable waste of it all. My heart broke on its shame and sorrow. I suddenly knew how much crying there was in me, and how little love. I knew, at last, how lonely I was. But I couldn’t respond. My culture had taught me all the wrong things well. So I lay completely still, and gave no reaction at all. But the soul has no culture. The soul has no nations. The soul has no colour or accent or way of life. The soul is forever. The soul is one. And when the heart has its moment of truth and sorrow, the soul can’t be stilled. I clenched my teeth against the stars. I closed my eyes. I surrendered to sleep. One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.
  54. And there was a sense of certainty, in the village, that no city I’ve ever known provides: the certainty that emerges when the soil, and the generations who work it, become interchangeable; when the identities of the human beings and the nature of the place are one and the same. Cities are centres of constant and irreversible change.
  55. I was thinking about another kind of river, one that runs through every one of us, no matter where we come from, all over the world. It’s the river of the heart, and the heart’s desire. It’s the pure, essential truth of what each one of us is, and can achieve. All my life I’d been a fighter. I was always ready, too ready, to fight for what I loved, and against what I deplored. In the end, I became the expression of that fight, and my real nature was concealed behind a mask of menace and hostility. The message of my face and my body’s movement was, like that of a lot of other hard men, Don’t fuck with me. In the end, I became so good at expressing the sentiment that the whole of my life became the message.
  56. Rukhmabai concluded, the women had agreed with her choice for my first name. It was Shantaram, which means man of peace, or man of God’s peace.
  57. Life on the run puts a lie in the echo of every laugh, and at least a little larceny in every act of love.
  58. The faces of the Babas were radiant with their excruciation. Sooner or later, in the torment of endlessly ascending pain, every man of them assumed a luminous, transcendent beatitude. Light, made from the agonies they suffered, streamed from their eyes, and I’ve never known a human source more brilliant than their tortured smiles.
  59. Like every other tough, angry man I knew, I avoided fighting until it came to me, and then I enjoyed it.
  60. I was in love with her, but I wasn’t sure that I could trust her. It’s a fact of life on the run that you often love more people than you trust. For people in the safe world, of course, exactly the opposite is true.
  61. ‘Doctor … doctor … doctor …’ people said, all around me.
  62. NOTE: lost it at this passage. meaning for Lin and incredible generosity from villagers
  63. Waiting for nothing, that is what kills the heart of a man, isn’t it?
  64. The fear I’d put into others became ten terrors, fifty, a thousand, filling the loneliest hours of every night with dread.
  65. NOTE: karma
  66. We can compel men not to be bad, but we cannot compel them to be good, don’t you find?
  67. ‘There is no act of faith more beautiful than the generosity of the very poor,’
  68. Nothing exists as we see it. Nothing we see is really there, as we think we are seeing it. Our eyes are liars. Everything that seems real, is merely part of the illusion. Nothing exists, as we think it does. Not you. Not me. Not this room. Nothing.’
  69. Kismet is the word, in the Urdu language—fate has every power over us, but two. Fate cannot control our free will, and fate cannot lie. Men lie, to themselves more than to others, and to others more often than they tell the truth. But fate does not lie.
  70. ‘What I am saying is that reality—as you see it, and as most people see it—is nothing more than an illusion. There is another reality, beyond what we see with our eyes. You have to feel your way into that reality with your heart. There is no other way.’
  71. ‘The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,’ he said. ‘It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men—it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone—the noblest man alive or the most wicked—has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.’
  72. Good doctors have at least three things in common: they know how to observe, they know how to listen, and they’re very tired.
  73. ‘Khaderbhai is a man who makes the future,’ Abdullah concluded, as we stopped for a traffic signal. ‘Most of us—me and you, my brother—we wait for the future to come to us. But Abdel Khader Khan dreams the future, and then he plans it, and then he makes it happen. That is the difference between him and the rest of us.’
  74. Suffering, Khaderbhai once told me, is the way we test our love, especially our love for God. I didn’t know God, as he’d put it, but even as a disbeliever I failed the test that day. I couldn’t love God—anyone’s God—and I couldn’t forgive God.
  75. He was the kind of man that tough criminals call a hundred-percenter. the kind of man who’ll put his life on the line if he calls you his friend; the kind who’ll put his shoulder beside yours, without question or complaint, and stand with you against any odds.
  76. Prison pulls the masks away from men. You can’t hide what you are, in prison. You can’t pretend to be tough. You are, or you’re not, and everyone knows it.
  77. humble and important tasks were as esteemed in the slum as they were reviled in the wider community. All the teams who worked to defend the huts from the coming rain were rewarded with love. We only had to lift our heads from the filthy drains to find ourselves in a luxuriant garden of smiles.
  78. learned, some time later, that the two powerful men knew each other well, and were in fact close friends. But there were considerable differences between them, and perhaps none more significant than the authority of their leadership, and how they’d come by it. Qasim was given his power by a people who loved him. Khaderbhai had seized his power, and held it by strength of will and force of arms. And in the contrast of powers, it was the mafia lord’s that dominated. The people of the slum chose Qasim Ali as their leader and head man, but it was Khaderbhai who’d approved the choice, and who’d allowed it to happen.
  79. NOTE: power vs force
  80. The same men who’d been beating Joseph cradled him in their arms, then, and washed his face, neck, hands, and feet. They gave him water. They combed his hair. They soothed him with hugs and the first kind words he’d heard since the beginning of his chastisement. They told him that if he were genuinely sorry he would be forgiven, and given help. Many people were brought forward, myself included, and Joseph was made to touch our feet. They dressed him in a clean shirt, and propped him up, their arms and shoulders supporting him tenderly.
  81. NOTE: what imagery, what a lesson and what a community
  82. justice is a judgement that is both fair and forgiving. Justice is not done until everyone is satisfied, even those who offend us and must be punished by us. You can see, by what we have done with these two boys, that justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.’
  83. Poverty and pride are devoted blood brothers until one, always and inevitably, kills the other.
  84. shame. Fear and guilt are the dark angels that haunt rich men,
  85. sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.’
  86. What I didn’t tell Karla was that the girlfriend had described me as interested in everything, and committed to nothing. It still rankled. It still hurt. It was still true.
  87. ‘I don’t know what scares me more,’ she declared, ‘the madness that smashes people down, or their ability to endure it.’
  88. I was too young, then, to know that dead lovers are the toughest rivals.
  89. It’s one of the five hundred things I love about Indians: if they like you, they do it quickly, and not by half.
  90. We can’t really know what a pleasure it is to run in our own language until we’re forced to stumble in someone else’s.
  91. ‘Nothing, my old friend. Only, is it not true that some of our strength comes from suffering? That suffering hardship makes us stronger? That those of us who have never known a real hardship, and true suffering, cannot have the same strength as others, who have suffered much? And if that is true, does that not mean that your argument is the same thing as saying that we have to be weak to suffer, and we have to suffer to be strong, so we have to be weak to be strong?
  92. NOTE: there is truth in paradox again
  93. ‘The burden of happiness can only be relieved by the balm of suffering.’
  94. Then, to the general comment—I think that suffering is the way we test our love. Every act of suffering, no matter how small or agonisingly great, is a test of love in some way. Most of the time, suffering is also a test of our love for God.
  95. Madjid modified his position by agreeing that suffering was not necessarily a sign of weakness, but insisting that we could toughen ourselves against it with a strong will; strength of will coming from strict self-discipline, a kind of self-imposed suffering.
  96. suffering, of every kind, is always a matter of what we’ve lost. When we’re young, we think that suffering is something that’s done to us. When we get older—when the steel door slams shut, in one way or another—we know that real suffering is measured by what’s taken away from us.
  97. We were talking about suffering tonight, and I’m interested to know, what do you think about it?’ ‘Is easy—suffering is hungry, isn’t it? Hungry, for anything, means suffering. Not hungry for something, means, not suffering. But everybody knows that.’ ‘Yes, I guess everybody does. Good night, Prabu.’
  98. seemed to me that every child, beginning with the sons and daughters of the rich, would benefit from the experience of slum life.
  99. It was vassal-love, one of the strongest and most mysterious human emotions.
  100. NOTE: wired to seek out and follow great leaders
  101. ‘Like most things, and most people, it’s not as bad as it looks from the outside.’
  102. Wealth and power, in a city where half the many millions were homeless, were measured by the privacy that only money could buy, and the solitude that only power could demand and enforce. The poor were almost never alone in Bombay, and I was poor.
  103. Like all the fugitive kind, the more successful I was, the longer and further I ran, the less I kept of my self.
  104. I knew it wasn’t true, but love seldom concerns itself with what we know or with what’s true.
  105. Nations neglect no men more shamefully than the heroes of their wars.’
  106. ‘There are only three big questions?’ I asked, unable to keep the sarcasm from my voice. ‘Yes,’ he answered equably. ‘Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?
  107. ‘You know, Lin,’ he said softly, ‘we have a saying, in the Pashto language, and the meaning of it is that you are not a man until you give your love, truly and freely, to a child. And you are not a good man until you earn the love, truly and freely, of a child in return.’
  108. His eyes and his lips defined his face. The eyes were unusually wide-set and large, giving him a slightly reptilian stare, and the marvellous lips were so full and sumptuously shaped that they seemed to be designed for a much larger head. His teeth were white and even at the front, but all the teeth on either side were capped with gold. Rococo curves at the corners of his wide nose gave his nostrils a delicate flare, as if he was constantly inhaling a pleasantly intoxicating scent.
  109. NOTE: the authors way of describing people and situations is unique and amazing
  110. You know the difference between news and gossip, don’t you? News tells you what people did. Gossip tells you how much they enjoyed it.’
  111. I think you must be a very bad man, in your heart of hearts, Lin. Only a wicked man would derive such benefit from good works. A good man, on the other hand, would simply be worn out and bad tempered.’
  112. NOTE: is this true? must there be a mktive like shame or guilt to do good deeds for a long time
  113. Are we ever justified in what we do? That question ruined my sleep for a long time after I saw the tortured little mouse. When we act, even with the best of intentions, when we interfere with the world, we always risk a new disaster that mightn’t be of our making, but that wouldn’t occur without our action. Some of the worst wrongs, Karla once said, were caused by people who tried to change things.
  114. What characterises the human race more, Karla once asked me, cruelty, or the capacity to feel shame for it? I thought the question acutely clever then, when I first heard it, but I’m lonelier and wiser now, and I know it isn’t cruelty or shame that characterises the human race. It’s forgiveness that makes us what we are. Without forgiveness, our species would’ve annihilated itself in endless retributions. Without forgiveness, there would be no history. Without that hope, there would be no art, for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness. Without that dream, there would be no love, for every act of love is in some way a promise to forgive. We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.
  115. Didier, trying to warn me, trying to help me or save me, perhaps, had said once that nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.
  116. It’s a characteristic of human nature that the best qualities, called up quickly in a crisis, are very often the hardest to find in a prosperous calm. The contours of all our virtues are shaped by adversity.
  117. One of the ironies of courage, and the reason why we prize it so highly, is that we find it easier to be brave for someone else than we do for ourselves alone.
  118. The most precious gift you can bring to your lover is your suffering.
  119. The street accepted me in that complex network of schemes and scammers for several reasons. First, I only worked the tourists who were too careful or too paranoid to deal with Indians; if I didn’t take them, no-one did. Second, no matter what the tourists wanted, I always took them to the appropriate Indian businessman; I never did the deals myself. And, third, I wasn’t greedy; my commissions always accorded with the standard set by decent, self-respecting crooks throughout the city. I made sure, as well, when my commissions were large enough, to put money back into the restaurants, hotels, and begging bowls of the area. And there was something else, something far less tangible but even more important, perhaps, than commissions and turf-war sensitivities. The fact that a white foreigner—a man most of them took to be European—had settled so ably and comfortably in the mud, near the bottom of their world, was profoundly satisfying to the sensibility of the Indians on the street. In a curious mix of pride and shame, my presence legitimised their crimes. What they did, from day to day, couldn’t be so bad if a gora joined them in doing it. And my fall raised them up because they were no worse, after all, than Linbaba, the educated foreigner who lived by crime and worked the street as they did.
  120. Shantu worked in his taxi sixteen hours a day for six days every week. He was determined that his son and two daughters would know lives that were better than his own. He saved money for their education and for the substantial dowries he would be required to provide if the girls were to marry well. He was permanently exhausted, and beset by all the torments, terrible and trivial, that poverty endures.
  121. They were poor, tired, worried men, but they were Indian, and any Indian man will tell you that although love might not have been invented in India, it was certainly perfected there.
  122. Fate’s way of beating us in a fair fight is to give us warnings that we hear, but never heed.
  123. Silence is the tortured man’s revenge.
  124. Fear dries a man’s mouth, and hate strangles him. That’s why hate has no great literature: real fear and real hate have no words.
  125. Every virtuous act has some dark secret in its heart, Khaderbhai once told me, and every risk we take contains a mystery that can’t be solved.
  126. The only victory that really counts in prison, an old-timer in the Australian jail once said to me, is survival. But survival means more than simply being alive. It’s not just the body that must survive a jail term: the spirit and the will and the heart have to make it through as well. If any one of them is broken or destroyed, the man whose living body walks through the gate, at the end of his sentence, can’t be said to have survived it. And it’s for those small victories of the heart, and the spirit, and the will that we sometimes risk the body that cradles them.
  127. Cruelty is a kind of cowardice. Cruel laughter is the way cowards cry when they’re not alone, and causing pain is how they grieve.
  128. You can never tell just how much badness there is in a man until you see him smile.
  129. The worst things that people do to us always make us feel ashamed. The worst things that people do always strike at the part of us that wants to love the world. And a tiny part of the shame we feel, when we’re violated, is shame at being human.
  130. ‘People say that money is the root of all evil,’ Khaled told me when we met in his apartment. His English was rich with accents of New York and Arabic and the Hindi that he spoke reasonably well. ‘But it’s not true. It’s the other way round. Money isn’t the root of all evil. Evil is the root of all money. There’s no such thing as clean money.
  131. When greed meets control, you get a black market.’
  132. ‘But first you need the theory, before you can make a profit from the practice.’
  133. There’s a little arrogance at the heart of every better self. That arrogance left me when I failed to save my neighbour’s life—failed even to know that she was ill. And there’s an innocence, essential and unblinking, in the heart of every determination to serve.
  134. Pumping iron is Zen for violent men.
  135. ‘It isn’t a secret, unless keeping it hurts.’
  136. I was floating, outside myself, looking down at my own body, and at them, and watching everything that was going on. And … I got this weird feeling … this really strange kind of understanding … of everything that was happening. I knew who they were, and what they were, and why they were doing it. I knew it all really clearly, and then I knew that I had two choices—to hate them or to forgive them. And … I don’t know why, or how, but it was absolutely clear to me that I had to forgive them. I had to, if I wanted to survive. I know it sounds crazy—’
  137. Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become. Sooner or later we meet the drunkard, the waster, the betrayer, the ruthless mind, and the hate-filled heart. But fate loads the dice, of course, because we usually find ourselves loving or pitying almost all of those people. And it’s impossible to despise someone you honestly pity, and to shun someone you truly love.
  138. ‘I am not trying to trap you, Lin, or trick you. But you will agree, I think, from this example, that it is possible to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.’
  139. The universe has a nature, for and of itself, something like human nature, if you like, and its nature is to combine, and to build, and to become more complex. It always does this. If the circumstances are right, bits of matter will always come together to make more complex arrangements. And this fact about the way that our universe works, this moving towards order, and towards combinations of these ordered things, has a name. In the western science it is called the tendency toward complexity, and it is the way the universe works.’
  140. ‘In essence, you are right. Anything that enhances, promotes, or accelerates this movement toward the Ultimate Complexity is good,’ he said, pronouncing the words so slowly, and with such considered precision, that I was sure he’d spoken the phrases many times. ‘Anything that inhibits, impedes, or prevents this movement toward the Ultimate Complexity is evil. The wonderful thing about this definition of good and evil is that it is both objective and universally acceptable.’
  141. Karla once said that men reveal what they think when they look away, and what they feel when they hesitate. With women, she said, it’s the other way around.
  142. You do what God should do: you give me a reason to live. You give me a reason to love the world.’
  143. NOTE: beautiful. use fodr vows?
  144. But the lies we tell ourselves are the ghosts that haunt the empty house of midnight.
  145. I had to shoot him. I had to kill him. That was all right. I didn’t care. The air in my lungs was spent, and my brain was exploding in Mandelbrot whirls of colored light, and I was dying, and I wanted to kill him.
  146. There are many animals that can express their happiness, but only the human animal has the genius to express a magnificent sadness. And for me it is something special; a daily meditation. Sadness is my one and my only art.’
  147. For all his wisdom, he did not know that love cannot be tested. Honesty can be tested, and loyalty. But there is no test for love. Love goes on forever, once it begins, even if we come to hate the one we love. Love goes on forever because love is born in the part of us that does not die.’
  148. It seemed, with Khader, that he never felt or expressed any one emotion without feeling something of its opposite. That might be true for all of us, to some extent.
  149. ‘In order to know about any act or intention or consequence, we must first ask two questions. One, what would happen if everyone did this thing? Two, would this help or hinder the movement toward complexity?’
  150. ‘This is why killing and stealing are wrong—not because a book tells us they are wrong, or a law tells us they are wrong, or a spiritual guide tells us they are wrong, but because if everyone did them we would not move toward the ultimate complexity that is God, with the rest of the universe. And the opposite of these is also true. Why is love good? Well, what would happen if everyone loved everyone else? Would that help us or would it hold us back?’ ‘It would help,’ I agreed, laughing from within the trap he’d set for me. ‘Yes. In fact, such universal love would greatly accelerate the move-ment toward God. Love is good. Friendship is good. Loyalty is good. Freedom is good. Honesty is good.
  151. A man trusts another man when he sees enough of himself in him, I guess. Or maybe when he sees the things he wishes he had in himself.’
  152. Khaderbhai once said that every virtuous act is inspired by a dark secret. It mightn’t be true of everyone, but it was true enough about me. The little good that I’ve done in the world has always dragged behind it a shadow of dark inspiration. What I do know now, and didn’t know then is that, in the long run, motive matters more with good deeds than it does with bad. When all the guilt and shame for the bad we’ve done have run their course, it’s the good we did that can save us. But then, when salvation speaks, the secrets we kept, and the motives we concealed, creep from their shadows. They cling to us, those dark motives for our good deeds. Redemption’s climb is steepest if the good we did is soiled with secret shame.
  153. The effect, no matter how skillfully achieved, is always born in the artist’s intuition. And intuition can’t be taught.
  154. NOTE: I disagree. I think great effort to learn deeply can build intuition
  155. It’s said that you can never go home again, and it’s true enough, of course. But the opposite is also true. You must go back, and you always go back, and you can never stop going back, no matter how hard you try.
  156. We can deny the past, but we can’t escape its torment because the past is a speaking shadow that keeps pace with the truth of what we are, step for step, until we die.
  157. A Dutch mercenary in Kinshasa once told me that the only time he ever stopped hating himself was when the risk he faced became so great that he acted without thinking or feeling anything at all. I wished he hadn’t said it to me because I knew exactly what he meant. And I rode that night, I soared that night, and the stillness in my heart was almost like being at peace.
  158. NOTE: flow
  159. IN MY FIRST KNIFE FIGHT I learned that there are two kinds of people who enter a deadly conflict: those who kill to live, and those who live to kill. The ones who like killing might come into a fight with most of the fire and fury, but the man or woman who fights just to live, who kills just to survive, will usually come out of it on top.
  160. The simple fact is that fighting to save a life is a better and more enduring reason than fighting to end one.
  161. Tough men hate bullies almost as much as bullies hate tough men.
  162. I didn’t know then that good soldiers are defined by what they can endure, not by what they can inflict.
  163. You can never tell what people have inside them until you start taking it away, one hope at a time.
  164. Everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or even thought, has an effect on you that’s greater than zero.
  165. I paid too much for the vehicle and its licence, but the money meant nothing to me. It was black money, and black money runs through the fingers faster than legal, hard-earned money. If we can’t respect the way we earn it, money has no value. If we can’t use it to make life better for our families and loved ones, money has no purpose.
  166. ‘Lin, a man has to find a good woman, and when he finds her he has to win her love. Then he has to earn her respect. Then he has to cherish her trust. And then he has to, like, go on doing that for as long as they live. Until they both die. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the most important thing in the world. That’s what a man is, yaar. A man is truly a man when he wins the love of a good woman, earns her respect, and keeps her trust. Until you can do that, you’re not a man.’
  167. NOTE: very well said
  168. At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone. For I still love you with the whole of my heart, Prabaker. I still love you. And sometimes, my friend, the love that I have, and can’t give to you, crushes the breath from my chest. Sometimes, even now, my heart is drowning in a sorrow that has no stars without you, and no laughter, and no sleep.
  169. HEROIN IS A SENSORY DEPRIVATION TANK for the soul. Floating on the Dead Sea of the drug stone, there’s no sense of pain, no regret or shame, no feelings of guilt or grief, no depression, and no desire. The sleeping universe enters and envelops every atom of existence. Insensible stillness and peace disperse fear and suffering. Thoughts drift like ocean weeds and vanish in the distant, grey somnolency, unperceived and indeterminable. The body succumbs to cryogenic slumber: the listless heart beats faintly, and breathing slowly fades to random whispers. Thick nirvanic numbness clogs the limbs, and downward, deeper, the sleeper slides and glides toward oblivion, the perfect and eternal stone.
  170. That chemical absolution is paid for, like everything else in the universe, with light. The first light that junkies lose is the light in their eyes. A junkie’s eyes are as lightless as the eyes of Greek statues, as lightless as hammered lead, as lightless as a bullet hole in a dead man’s back. The next light lost is the light of desire. Junkies kill desire with the same weapon they use on hope and dream and honour: the club made from their craving. And when all the other lights of life are gone, the last light lost is the light of love. Sooner or later, when it’s down to the last hit, the junkie will give up the woman he loves, rather than go without; sooner or later, every hard junkie becomes a devil in exile.
  171. Personality and personal identity are in some ways like co-ordinates on the street map drawn by our intersecting relationships. We know who we are and we define what we are by references to the people we love and our reasons for loving them. I was that point in space and time where Abdullah’s wild violence intersected with Prabaker’s happy gentleness. Adrift, then, and somehow un-defined by their deaths, I realised with unease and surprise how much I’d also come to depend upon Khader and his council of bosses.
  172. A mujaheddin fighter once told me that fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them. Khader was one of my twelve, but his disguise was always the best. In those abandoned, angry days, as my grieving heart limped into numbing despair, I began to think of him as my enemy; my beloved enemy.
  173. It was all there, if you knew what to look for, and if you knew where to look.
  174. ‘I told him,’ she said, ‘that a good man is as strong as the right woman needs him to be.’
  175. Cold turkey off heroin is life with the skin torn away. The assault of anxiety on the unprotected mind, the brain without natural endorphins, makes men and women mad. Every junkie going through turkey is mad. The madness is so fierce and cruel that some die of
  176. Two days and nights I was tied to the bed. Nazeer nursed me with tenderness and constancy. He was always there. Every time I opened my eyes, I felt his rough hand on my brow, wiping the sweat and the tears into my hair. Every time the lightning strike of cramp twisted a leg or arm or my stomach, he was there, massaging warmth into the knot of pain. Every time I whimpered or screamed into the gag, he held my eyes with his, willing me to endure and succeed. He removed the gag when I choked on a trickle of vomit or my blocked nose let no air pass, but he was a strong man and he knew that I didn’t want my screams to be heard. When I nodded my head, he replaced the gag and tied it fast.
  177. One of the worst of my many failings, in those exile years, was my blindness to the good in people: I never knew how much goodness there was in a man or a woman until I owed them more than I could repay.
  178. I was going because my heart was hungry for Khaderbhai’s love, the father-love that streamed from his eyes and filled the father-shaped hole in my life. When so many other loves were lost—my family, my friends, Prabaker, Abdullah, even Karla—that look of love in Khader’s eyes was everything and all the world to me.
  179. life is a feature of all things. We could call it a characteristic, which is one of my favourite English words. If you do not speak English as your first language, the word “characteristic” has an amazing sound—like rapping on a drum, or breaking kindling wood for a fire. To continue, every atom in the universe has the characteristic of life. The more complex way that atoms get put together, the more complex is the expression of the characteristic of life. A rock is a very simple arrangement of atoms, so the life in a rock is so simple that we cannot see it. A cat is a very complex arrangement of atoms, so the life in a cat is very obvious. But life is there, in everything, even in a rock, and even when we cannot see it.’
  180. ‘Life, and all the other characteristics of all the things in the universe, such as consciousness, and free will, and the tendency toward complexity, and even love, was given to the universe by light, at the beginning of time as we know it.’
  181. ‘What I have just told you is the relationship between consciousness and matter,’ Khader proclaimed, pausing again until he had my eye. ‘This is a kind of test, and now you know it. This is a test that you should apply to every man who tells you that he knows the meaning of life. Every guru you meet and every teacher, every prophet and every philosopher, should answer these two questions for you: What is an objective, universally acceptable definition of good and evil? And, What is the relationship between consciousness and matter?
  182. Jealousy, like the flawed love that bears it, has no respect for time or space or wisely reasoned argument. Jealousy can raise the dead with a single, spiteful taunt, or hate a perfect stranger for nothing more than the sound of his name.
  183. The climb was steep but short. Puffing hard in the thin air and shivering in a cold that penetrated to my bones, I pushed and dragged the reluctant horses with the rest of the men. The Afghan fighters never once complained or grumbled. When the pitch of one climb was steeper than anything I’d known on the whole trip, I paused at last, panting heavily to regain my strength. Two men turned to see that I’d halted, and they slid down the path to me, giving up the precious metres they’d just gained. With huge smiles and encouraging claps on the shoulder, they helped me to drag a horse up the slope and then bounded off to help those ahead.
  184. NOTE: brings tears to my eyes thjs selflessness. beautiful camraderie
  185. And if you prove to a man how vain his hope is, how vain his hoping was, you kill the bright, believing part of him that wants to be loved.
  186. Love is the passionate search for a truth other than your own; and once you feel it, honestly and completely, love is forever. Every act of love, every moment of the heart reaching out, is a part of the universal good: it’s a part of God, or what we call God, and it can never die.
  187. MEN WAGE WARS for profit and principle, but they fight them for land and women.
  188. The popular European and American caricature of Afghans as wild, bloodthirsty men—a description that delighted Afghans themselves endlessly when they heard it—was contradicted by every direct contact I had with them. Face to face, Afghan men were generous, friendly, honest, and scrupulously courteous to me. I didn’t say anything at that first meeting, or at any of those that followed, but still the men included me in every word they shared.
  189. I didn’t know then, as I do now, that love’s a one-way street. Love, like respect, isn’t something you get; it’s something you give.
  190. Genius is vain, and cleverness is hollow, at the end.
  191. don’t like—and I don’t really trust—people who don’t believe in anything.’
  192. The end, when it comes, is always too soon.
  193. And I looked at the men, the brave and beautiful men beside me, running into the guns, and God help me for thinking it, and God forgive me for saying it, but it was glorious, it was glorious, if glory is a magnificent and raptured exaltation. It was what love would be like, if love was a sin. It was what music would be, if music could kill you. And I climbed a prison wall with every running step.
  194. There wasn’t any glory in it. There never is. There’s only courage and fear and love. And war kills them all, one by one.
  195. And then, after three weeks of that maddening, torturous pain and massive, self-medicated doses of penicillin and hot antibiotic washes, the wound healed and the pain receded from me just as memories do, like landmarks on a distant, foggy shore.
  196. NOTE: anitya - impermanence
  197. Every door is a portal leading through time as well as space. The same doorway that leads us into and out of a room also leads us into the past of the room and its ceaselessly unfolding future. People knew that once, deep within the ur-mind, the ur-imagination. You can still find those who decorate doorways, and reverently salute them, in every culture, from Ireland to Japan.
  198. ‘It’s a kind of Red Queen contest,’ I said to Salman Mustaan when the new passport factory had been running for six diligent months. ‘Lai ka Rani?’ he asked. A Red Queen? ‘Yeah. It’s a biology thing. It’s about hosts, like human bodies, and parasites, like viruses and such. I studied it when I was running my clinic in the zhopadpatti. The hosts—our bodies—and the viruses—any bug that makes us sick—are locked in a competition with each other. When the parasite attacks, the host develops a defence. Then the virus changes to beat that defence, so the host gets a new defence. And that keeps on going. They call it a Red Queen contest. It’s from the story, you know, Alice in Wonderland.’
  199. He was, at heart, a humble man, and that humility made him an honourable man.
  200. Virtue is concerned with what we do, and honour is concerned with how we do it. You
  201. You can only ever be yourself. The more you try to be like someone else, the more you find yourself standing in the way.
  202. I never found a club or clan or idea that was more important to me than the men and women who believed in it.
  203. We had pride, and we had principle, and we were almost the men of honour that we believed ourselves to be.
  204. And money, if the pile gets high enough, is something like a big political party: it does as much harm as it does good, it puts too much power in too few hands, and the closer you come to it the dirtier you get.
  205. Fate always gives you two choices, Scorpio George once said: the one you should take, and the one you do.
  206. He’d been able to deal with that pain because he’d accepted his own part in causing it. I’d never accepted my share of responsibility—right up to that moment—for the way my marriage had failed or for the heartache that had followed it. That was why I’d never dealt with it.
  207. Nothing in any life, no matter how well or poorly lived, is wiser than failure or clearer than sorrow. And in the tiny, precious wisdom that they give to us, even those dread and hated enemies, suffering and failure, have their reason and their right to be.
  208. I know now that when the loving, honest moment comes it should be seized, and spoken, because it may never come again. And unvoiced, unmoving, unlived in the things we declare from heart to heart, those true and real feelings wither and crumble in the remembering hand that tries too late to reach for them.
  209. There are few things more discomfiting than a spontaneous outburst of genuine decency from someone you’re determined to dislike for no good reason.
  210. They couldn’t understand that every time I entered the slum I felt the urge to let go and surrender to a simpler, poorer life that was yet richer in respect, and love, and a vicinal connectedness to the surrounding sea of human hearts. They couldn’t understand what I meant when I talked about the purity of the slum: they’d been there, and seen the wretchedness and filth for themselves. They saw no purity. But they hadn’t lived in those miraculous acres, and they hadn’t learned that to survive in such a writhe of hope and sorrow the people had to be scrupulously and heartbreakingly honest. That was the source of their purity: above all things, they were true to themselves.
  211. The only kingdom that makes any man a king is the kingdom of his own soul.
  212. Anger softened into sorrow, as it always does, as it always must.
  213. ‘There is no man, and no place, without war,’ he replied, and it struck me that it was the most profound thing he’d ever said to me. ‘The only thing we can do is choose a side, and fight. That is the only choice we get—who we fight for, who we fight against. That is life.’
  214. Every human heartbeat, he’d said many times, is a universe of possibilities. And it seemed to me that I finally understood exactly what he’d meant. He’d been trying to tell me that every human will has the power to transform its fate. I’d always thought that fate was something unchangeable: fixed for every one of us at birth, and as constant as the circuit of the stars. But I suddenly realised that life is stranger and more beautiful than that. The truth is that, no matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love.
What I got out of it
  1. Beautiful view into human nature, power, love, greed through the author's point of view

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