Cover image for The hero's walk : a novel
The hero's walk : a novel
Badami, Anita Rau.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2001.
Physical Description:
359 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Library

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In a small town by the Bay of Bengal in India, Sripathi Rao, a headstrong man and disenchanted copywriter, lives in his crumbling ancestral home, uncomfortably aware of the encroaching modern world. Then, early one morning, Sripathi is awakened by a call from Canada: his long-estranged daughter and her husband have been killed in a car accident. Their surviving seven-year-old child, Nandana, is about to become his reluctant ward. Yet Nandana has never met her grandfather, has never been to India, and hasn't spoken a word since the tragedy.

With The Hero's Walk , Anita Rau Badami ushers us into the colorful lives of the Rao family: Nirmala, Sripathi's frustrated but dutiful wife; Ammayya, his miserly and eccentric mother; his sister, Putti, unmarried and in her forties, still dreaming of love; and Arun, his only son, an unemployed environmental crusader. When Sripathi brings Nandana to India, life suddenly changes for the entire family. Small, silent Nandana, in fact, may be the one person who can bring harmony into the house and hope back into her grandfather's life.

Steeped in the colors, customs, and sensuality of India, The Hero's Walk is a moving story that shows the potential for heroism in the small acts of ordinary people. It presents a family in all its messy, glorious contradictions with insight, humor, and compassion. And it marks the arrival of a gifted writer of uncommon talent and heart.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Sripathi Rao is self-centered and self-important, even though he lives with his patient wife, his unmarried sister, his harridan of a mother, and his rebellious son in the crumbling family manse in southern India. He has another child, too, his daughter Maya, whom he has not spoken to in nearly a decade, when she went to Canada to study and married a fellow student. But Maya and her husband are killed in a car accident, and Sripathi must bring their seven-year-old daughter, Nandana, back to India with him. In chapters that alternate Sripathi's and Nandana's point of view, and occasionally that of other family members, a rich embroidery of familial tensions, sorrows, and desires emerges, framed in the soggy heat or endless wet. Nandana, even when silent, brings life to this hard-pressed family; we see Sripathi slowly discover respect and affection not only for his wife and son, but even for his daughter's memory and, finally, for himself. Rich in sensuous detail, both sweet and bitter, and an almost cinematic sense of color and emotion. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

The flowering of young writers of Indian origin continues with Badami's deeply resonant debut novel, which places her in the ranks of writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Akhil Sharma and Manil Suri. The scion of a once wealthy, now down-at-the-heels Brahmin family, Sripathi Rao lives in the crumbling family manse in a small city on the Bay of Bengal. At 57, Sripathi is ill-tempered, emotionally constipated and a domestic tyrant a man riding for a fall. He struggles at a mediocre job to support his dragon of a mother, unmarried but lovelorn 44-year-old sister, subservient wife and layabout son. It's the perfect setup for a domestic comedy, until fate intervenes with the sudden deaths of his daughter, Maya, and her husband, in Vancouver. Guilt-ridden for having refused to communicate with Maya because she humiliated him by marrying out of her caste and race, Sripathi brings his seven-year-old orphaned granddaughter, Nandana, back to India. Badami's portrait of a bereft and bewildered child is both restrained and heartrending; Nandana has remained mute since her parents died, believing that they will someday return. In his own way, Sripathi is also mute, unable to express his grief and longing for his dead daughter. This poignant motif is perfectly balanced by Badami's eye for the ridiculous and her witty, pointed depiction of the contradictions of Indian society. She also writes candidly about the woes of underdevelopment the "stench of fish, human beings, diesel oil, food frying," poor drains, chaotic traffic and pervasive corruption. In the course of the narrative, everyone in Sripathi's family undergoes a life change, and in the moving denouement, reconciliation grows out of tragedy, and Sripathi understands "the chanciness of existence, and the hope and the loss that always accompanied life." A bestseller in Canada, where it was a Kiriyamaa Pacific Rim Book Award finalist, Badami's novel will delight those on the lookout for works by writers on the crest of the Indian wave. Author tour. (Apr. 27) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Life in the Big House on Brahmin Street is spiraling downward. When Sripathi is 16, his father dies, leaving him with a heavily mortgaged house, care of his mother and infant sister, and gambling debts. Sripathi struggles through, eventually adding a wife and two children of his own to the household. It's now four decades since his father's death. His mother complains incessantly, his son is involved in every social protest imaginable, and he's been unable to find a suitable husband for his sister. And then things get worse: his daughter, Maya (his pride and joy before she left home for a Canadian university and shamed the family by reneging on an arranged marriage), has been killed with her Canadian husband in an automobile accident. Their daughter, seven-year-old Nandana Baker, must now make her home in India with grandparents she has never met. Somehow, the young Nandana manages to thaw Sripathi's hardened heart and give the rest of the family the power to stand up to the tyrannical family matriarch. This touching story of a family under intense pressure is especially recommended for public libraries serving a large Asian community, but the universal themes will give this broad appeal. Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-An attractive jacket pulls readers into this well-told story of a struggling family in a small city in modern India. The Raos' glory days are over, epitomized by their large home that has begun to crumble and mildew, now surrounded by taller apartment buildings. Mr. Rao, the central character, is a self-centered man made unhappy by his reversal of fortune and by his resentful wife, a radical son, a shrewish mother, and an unmarried 40-ish sister, all of whom he barely supports as a small-time advertising copywriter. They all live together, with greater or lesser degrees of grace. Mr. Rao also has a daughter in Canada from whom he became estranged when she broke off an arranged marriage and instead married a white man she met while in graduate school. Her seven-year-old daughter comes to India to live with her grandparents when her parents die in an auto accident. Nandana has not said a word to anyone since the accident, and moving to a new country and living with these odd strangers is difficult for her. The plot revolves around the life of the family as part of Indian culture, and how Nandana and her grandfather both begin to adjust to their circumstances. Each chapter is written from the viewpoint of a different character, including little Nandana-possibly the best-drawn character in a novel filled with fine characterizations. The Rao family could be anyone's family, and they all find some peace and hope for the future at book's end.-Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1: BY THE EDGE OF THE SEA It was only five o'clock on a July morning in Toturpuram, and already every trace of night had disappeared. The sun swelled, molten, from the far edge of the sea. Waves shuddered against the sand and left curving lines of golden froth that dried almost instantly. All along the beach, fishermen towed their boats ashore and emptied their nets of the night's catch. Their mothers and wives, daughters and sisters, piled the prawn and the crab, the lobster and the fish, into large, damp baskets still redolent of the previous day's load, and then, leaving the shimmering scales and cracked shells for the crows to fight over, they caught the first bus to the market, laughing as other passengers hastily moved to the front and made way for them and their odorous wares. In a few hours the heat would hang over the town in long, wet sheets, puddle behind people's knees, in their armpits and in the hollows of their necks, and drip down their foreheads. Sweaty thighs would stick to chairs and make rude sucking sounds when contact was broken. Only idiots ventured out to work and, once there, sat stunned and idle at their desks because the power had gone off and the ceiling fans were still. It was impossible to bat an eyelash without feeling faint. The more sensible folk stayed at home, clad only in underwear, with moist cloths draped over their heads and chests, drinking coconut water by the litre and fanning themselves with folded newspapers. Even though it was the middle of July in this small town that crouched on the shores of the Bay of Bengal about three hours by bus from Madras, the southwest monsoons that provided a minor interlude between periods of heat had not appeared. So all of Toturpuram longed for December when the northeast monsoons would roar in. The memory of those cool, wet mornings was so appealing that everyone forgot that December was also the beginning of the cyclone season when winds blew at 150 kilometres per hour, smashing everything that stood in their way. They did not remember the torrential rains that knocked out the power lines and plunged the town into stinking, liquid darkness. And they utterly forgot how the sea became a towering green wall of water that dissolved the beach and flooded the streets, turning roadways into drains and bringing dysentery and diarrhea in its wake. There was so much rain that septic tanks exploded all over town, and people woke suddenly in the night to find their belongings floating in sewage. Today the morning light touched the squalid little town with a tenuous beauty. Even the dozens of angular apartment blocks that marched stolidly from the beach up to Big House on Brahmin Street were softened by the early glow. Sheaves of television antennae bristled up from the roofs of those apartments and caught fire as the sun rose. Big House was the only building on the street that did not flaunt one. Sripathi Rao, the owner, had reluctantly bought a television set a few years ago, but it was an old model that only had an internal antenna. His mother, Ammayya, had been disappointed. "Nobody will even know we have a television," she protested. "What is the use of having something if nobody knows about it?" Sripathi would not be swayed. "So long as you get your programs, why does it matter who knows what we have? Besides, this is all I can afford." "If you had listened to me and become a big doctor you wouldn't have been talking about affording and not affording at all," grumbled his mother. She never missed an opportunity to remind him how much of a disappointment he was to her. "Even if I was one of the Birlas, I would have bought only this television," Sripathi had argued. Or the Tatas or the Ambanis or, for that matter, any of India's mighty business tycoons. He did not believe in ostentatious displays-of possessions or of emotions. When the phone rang for the first time that day, Sripathi was on the balcony of his house. As usual, he had woken at four in the morning and was now reading the newspaper, ticking off interesting items with a red marker. He stopped when he heard the high, fractured trill, but made no move to go down to the landing halfway between the first and ground floors to the phone. He waited for someone else to get it. There were enough people around, including-he thought with some annoyance-his son, Arun, asleep in the room across the corridor from his own. Afterwards Sripathi wondered why he had felt no twinge of premonition. He remembered other times when tragedy had occurred: how uneasy he had been the day before his father's lifeless body was discovered on Andaal Street, and how strange the coincidence that had taken him there the next morning where he had joined the curious crowd gathered around it. And before his beloved grandmother, Shantamma, was finally claimed by the Lord of Death, his nights had been full of restless dreams. Weren't disasters always heralded by a moment of immense clarity or a nightmare that rocked you, weeping, out of sleep? This time, however, he experienced nothing. The phone continued to ring, grating on Sripathi's nerves. "Arun!" he shouted, leaning back in his chair so that he could see the length of his bedroom through the balcony door. "Get the phone! Can't you hear it?" There was no reply. "Idiot, sleeps all his life," he muttered. He pushed the chair away from the square iron table on which he had arranged his writing material, and stood up, flexing his rounded shoulders. As a youth, Sripathi had found that he was taller than all his friends and, because he hated to be different or conspicuous in any way, had developed a stoop. His thick grey hair was cut as short as possible by Shakespeare Kuppalloor, the barber on Tagore Street. An expression of permanent disappointment had settled on a face dominated by a beaky nose and large, moist eyes. After the softness of the eyes, the thin, austere line of his mouth came as a surprise. Once during an argument, his wife, Nirmala, had remarked that it looked like a zippered purse. He remembered being taken aback by the comparison. He had always found her to be like a bar of Lifebuoy soap-functional but devoid of all imagination. The thought crossed his mind that the call might be from Maya, his daughter in Vancouver, and he paused in his passage across the bedroom. If it was, he didn't want to answer it. His eyes fell on a photograph of Maya, with her foreign husband and their child, on the windowsill next to Nirmala's side of the bed, and immediately his mood became tinged with bitterness. Every day, whenever he found an opportunity, he turned the picture face down on the sill and piled some books on it, feeling slightly childish, only to have it reinstated right-side-up by Nirmala. But Maya phoned on Sunday mornings, he reminded himself. At six-thirty when, as she knew, her mother would be waiting, sitting on the cold, tiled floor of the landing, right beside the phone. And every Sunday, for several years now, Sripathi had avoided that moment by setting off for a walk at six-twenty. Excerpted from The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.