As The Hero’s Walk opens, Sripathi’s life is already in a state of thorough disrepair. His mother, a domineering, half-senile octogenarian, sits like a tyrant at the top of his household, frightening off his sister’s suitors, chastising him for not having become a doctor, and brandishing her hypochondria and paranoia with sinister abandon. It is Sripathi’s children, however, who pose the biggest problems: Arun, his son, is becoming dangerously involved in political activism, and Maya, his daughter, broke off her arranged engagement to a local man in order to wed a white Canadian. Sripathi’s troubles come to a head when Maya and her husband are killed in an automobile accident, leaving their 7- year-old daughter, Nandana, without Canadian kin. Sripathi travels to Canada and brings his granddaughter home.
The child he disowned, has died, ans suddenly, he has become the guardian of his granddaughter, who he has never seen. How is the family, already in throes of sorrow, and unhappiness going to cope. And what about the little girl who has never seen her grandparents before, never been to India before, and most importantly, has just lost both her parents. How would she manage in a strange environment,living with total strangers? Suddenly, everything has changed for everybody.
It is a beautifully told story of lost opportunities, egos that were bigger than their emotions. And of how fate can change everything in a jiffy. The book captures beautifully the nuances of everyday life. So real that it sometimes is difficult to believe it is fiction. Sripathi’s difficult childhood, his mother’s insecurities effecting both his and his sister’s lives. Sripathi’s wife Nirmala is a regular dutiful wife and daughter-in-law. She panders to her mean mother-in-law like all dutiful daughter-in-laws are supposed to, even when the old woman, goes out of her way to be mean to her. She doesn’t always agree with Sripathi, but finds ways of doing things in a way that does not hurt his ego, but there was one time when she refused to put up with his dictat and showed her disagreement.
The most endearing character is of course, Nandana, the seven year old granddaughter, who has not even completely understood what has happened. Even after she reaches India, in her mind, her parents are still alive. She just needs to walk and reach Canada to get to them. Her confusion, her sadness, her reminiscences of her parents, especially of her dad were beautifully done.
A tale , full of real characters, real situations, sometimes made worse by their own reactions and mindsets. You alternate between sympathy and annoyance with Sripathi’s behaviour. On one hand, you do feel sorry for him, and on the other, you get annoyed that he can be so bull-headed. A tale of several lives, entwined in traditions and values, which are at times best left behind, as the times change. As you read the book, you understand where Sripathi’s mother’s controlling behaviour comes from, but despair that she does not see the way she wrecks lives all around her. While sad, it is also a sweet story in how, people come together in crisis, leave behind beliefs that they might have clung on to, all their lives. And how one big change could herald lots of (good)changes for them.
I loved the story, loved the details, the descriptions, loved the characterisations. Another book that transports you into the world that they are describing. If I do have a complaint, it would be that in the beginning, it took a while before the story picked up some pace. I would give it a 4/5.
About the Author
Anita Rau Badami is writer of South Asian Diaspora living in Canada. She was born in India, and now lives in Canada. She has 4 books to her credit. You can read more about her here.