For several years I’ve had a close relationship with the Four Seasons Hotel in Bombay. With the very special rate for a small suite granted by the hotel, I was able to live and work in a private and protected space for two years.
Beginning with the large character wall, I changed the hotel suite into a writing studio. The redecorated suite reflected some of the rooms that appear in TMS. For example, Karla’s carpets and colourful curtains made from sari fabrics became features of the studio.
The two years in the made-over suite saw the space become another world, filled with vivid colours, textures, paintings, sculpture and spiritual inspirations. In a sense, the imaginary space in the writing studio, which was a mirror of many elements in the novel, became more real to me during the two years of constant writing than the world beyond the windows.
These images show the early changes to the hotel suite, and the final transformation. Details from different parts of the suite show that no corner of the studio was unchanged. The atmosphere of devotion, both practical and spiritual, evoked by the redecoration helped me to maintain a constant connection to my characters and the theme of the novel.
There were few visitors to the studio, and I didn’t leave the space very often: perhaps once a month or so. One photo shows a rare visitor, my very dear friend and colleague, Vincenzo Mingiardi, the Italian translator of Shantaram and TMS.
While writing TMS, I made some pieces that reflected some of the preoccupations in the novel. Some of the pieces were directly related to the theme of TMS, which is the search for love and faith. Some of the pieces were provoked by the secondary theme of the injustice of war.
When I’m writing a new book, I create objects and art pieces as a way to clear my mind for a few hours, while still remaining in a creative space.
This is a small selection of the pieces created in the studio during the two years of work on TMS. In all of them, the themes of love and faith, and war and peace, are reprised.
When the two layers of allegorical referencing have been studied and annotated, and all of the other elements of the architectural structure of the novel are assembled, I draw up the map of the novel.
The first part of the process is to create a grid representing the chapters, with a drop-down column beneath each numbered chapter. In the first row, running horizontally, I begin to combine all of the incidents and exchanges that occur in each chapter. Flowing under that narrative content are all the other layers of the novel, including the allegorical layers for The Aeneid and The Epic of Gilgamesh, the mirror layer, the mosaic layer, and all the emblematic images (mountain), animals (bird and reptile), colours (blue and silver), vice and virtue (greed and generosity), textures (silk and stone), scents (jasmine and sandalwood), number (seven), and several others.
I use post-it notes in the first process, moving elements around until I feel the right rhythm of mood and energy. Then I draft a clean copy of the architecture on a new ruled sheet, which becomes the template for the novel. The final architecture document is 2.8 metres long, and about 60 cm wide. It is written on acid-free, chemical-free drawing paper. The ink is high quality black, and the lettering is done by fountain pen.
One of the techniques that I used in creating an architectural structure for the novel, The Mountain Shadow, is to find an emblematic image, containing all of the essential elements expressed in the book, and to divide that image up into fragments, each one capturing a discrete object, such as an eye, or a hand, or a temple, or a boat, and so on. I've included one image of the mosaic here - the rest are in the Author's Edition.
A mountain studded with many caves in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park features in TMS. I used the caves at Kanheri in the national park, north of Bombay, as the location for my mythical mountain.
The images of the caves at Kanheri in this file were all taken during the monsoon, when the forest is vivid green with lush new growth.
Less than two hours from Bombay city, the Kanheri caves complex is one of Bombay’s undiscovered secrets for travellers. The long, slow climb to the highest caves is a fascinating adventure into the past, still living in the present.