If you have never read about an Indian family in India written by an Indian author, this would be great place to start. Reading diverse books opens up a new perspective to society that may not have ever been seen before. Every policy maker should be reading diverse texts from a non-western author. Reading a non-traditional book can give you new ideas and expand greater reasoning for why people want to live in America, but also keep their roots and tradition alive. This piece recognizes the balancing act of both.
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
― Anne Frank
As the ideal book for your next high school book club, The Hero’s Walk, by Anita Rae Badami would be the best selection. In your own class or club you may have read 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, or even Fahrenheit 451. What do all of these books have in common? Well, they place you, the reader, in an unfamiliar environment with the protagonist looking for their place in the world. On those terms, this book would be the grounds for that connection, but actually connect with an existing Brave New World on the other side of the world.
I am reading Anita Rau Badami’s novel book, The Hero’s Walk. I picked it up on Amazon in used condition for six dollars. I am not 100% sure why I chose this book over the many others from the provided book list, but it mainly had to do with the price of the book, the speed at which it got to my house, and the length of the book itself at 359 pages. The size is just long enough to keep me engaged, but not too long to make it seem un-finishable in a few weeks. Another key aspect that drove me to read it, was that it had a colorful front cover and had the word “hero” in the title. I felt I could not go wrong with any book that seemed that lively at first glance.
I am reading The Hero’s Walk because I feel a multicultural view of the world is eroding in the United States. Many more people care only about themselves and not the rest of Non-America. I was not sure where to start with a country to start with so I wanted to look at the top three countries by population. With the United States placed 3rd, China and India were the two options. I would be perfectly fine in reading a work with either perspective, but I felt I did not have a perspective on India, because I have never read a book placed in Indian culture. Therefore, this book was the lense through which I wanted to glimpse into Indian culture, even if I am only to able to gain a little insight.
I am reading The Hero’s Walk to learn about what makes the protagonist who Sripathi is. From what I can gather, the foundation for his morals is that his family is his main priority. The people in his life matter the most, but due to complicated history with his parents and his children, they do not also agree. However, those that do live in his house, he does the best to provide for them. One of the best examples, is that he has set up a water storage and distribution system in his house with a maze of pipes so everyone has reliable access to clean water. Due to the supplied saline water solution, he and his family must import water and use the created system. Now, I am not sure how widespread the issue is to access of clean water in India is today, but if this issue is happening in a old small town, then it would have to be happening elsewhere. Today, if this were case in America, it would be unthinkable, however not unseen. Flint Michigan is the perfect example. Now, their water was not mixed with salt, but with lead. Drinking both can be detrimental to everyone’s health.
How does the author fit into all of this? Well this is not her first book, and not an unknown experience to her. “Anita Rau Badami (born 24 September 1961) is a writer of South Asian descent living in Canada. Born in Rourkela, Odisha, India, she was educated at the University of Madras and Sophia Polytechnic in Bombay. She emigrated to Canada in 1991, and earned an M.A. at the University of Calgary. Her first novel was Tamarind Mem (1997).”
How common is it for Indians to be living in Canada? Well, there are about 1.2 million Indians living in Canada with the number of immigrants from India grew 74% from 314,690 in 2001 to 547,890 in 2011.
From “Theory before ‘theory’-liberal humanism” by Peter Barry, “Language itself conditions, limits, and predetermines what we see. Thus, all reality is constructed through language, so that nothing is simply ‘there’ in an unproblematic way – everything is a linguistic/textual construct.” (35) Here, no matter where you are located language is not unlimited, but provides a construct. This construct is root of the problem for our own protagonist and is a key reference point to use through out the book.
The story of The Hero’s Walk, by Anita Rau Badami, takes place in small old town in India, named Toturouram. Here, water is delivered every other day because the tap water is too salty, a dump truck driver delivers unwanted debris to the front door for no reason, and a cow is tied up in the neighbor’s backyard porch. If this situation seemed a little ordinary for a small town, then the family that lives there would be right at home.
“He hated water day, an event that occurred four times a week on Brahmin Street between six-thirty and seven in the morning. Because of the town’s dire shortage of drinking water, the municipal corporation regulated the supply by releasing limited quantities on alternative days.” (25)
“He did not believe in ostentatious displays-of possessions or of emotions.” (3)
The main character of this book is Sripathi Rao who is mentioned before and, for the most part, serves as our lense into his world of entertaining, innovative, and history rich people who happen to be his family. He is a writer at heart that serves his family as a copywriter who was once thought to become a doctor by his lawyer father. His wife, Nirmala, in Sripathi’s words are that “he had always found her to be like a bar of Lifebuoy soap-functional but devoid of all imagination.” (4). However, she taught a traditional dance in the home, Big House, and “she was glad to be making extra money, although she never told Sripathi that his income was not enough any more. A good Hindu wife had to maintain the pretense that her husband was supporting the family.”(14) For the most part, the get along well, until an event that no parent wants to go through, the daughter, Maya dies.
“Maya is dead,” said Sripathi. He heard his own voice again, and now it seemed to be coming from somewhere else. “So is her husband. Car crash.” (35)
This act is very act leads to what has been bubbling up over years and causes Nirmala to hit Sripathi out of angry. However, is this action, Sripathi did something that he had never done before. “You hit me?” she said, stunned. “You killed my child, and now you are hitting me also? Evil man.” (36) With the news that their only daughter had been killed in Vancouver with her husband, blame is set all around, but Sripathi takes it the hardest, because he had not written to her in years and is seen in the family as the one that pushed her away. However, he believed that if he let his children make their own way in life, then they would know what to do. In the current state, a new member will enter their lives that they did not believe could happen: Maya’s child, Nandana, will live in Big House.
“‘We spoke to your grandfather in India, Nandu,’ continued Uncle Sunny. ‘He’ll be comin here. That will be nice,right?’…To India? No way. How would her parents find her when they came home?” (48)
With all of the family history, one central symbol appears; Big House. This is where Nandana will go and where Maya left. Before that, no one had ever left the house or even the country since the house had been in the house for generations and represents the Rao family name. Sripathi’s father and mother wanted him to have it so he could provide for his family. Even though his father wanted him to be a doctor, his drive to provide for his family is all that he has. Big House represents his family and that house is in disrepair much like his family. Both the house and family are still standing, but it may not be for long. This is where the main tension lies. Sripathi and his family are at odds over the death of Maya and if it is right for the child to join them there.
A major theme is that family is first, but Sripathi seems to be failing to do that, even though he has tried his best for years. The idea of putting family first can be found in TV and a book that I have seen and read. The TV show that comes to mind is “Breaking Bad”, where the main character, Walter White, starts his journey as a drug kingpin to help his family, but slowly pushes his family away. For the book, The Metamorphosis, the main character, Gregor turns in a bug and his greatest fear became reality, because he can no longer support his family. Since he cannot support his family, he is rejected by them. In both causes, family has to come first, or the character is rejected.
One of the most inspiring aspects of this story is that Sripathi has the chance to redeem his passed daughter by taking care of Maya’s daughter as if it were his own daughter. This spirit drives the later half of the book is the best way.
As cultural and family are large parts of this book, some films share similar values that connect Canada and India. The first being, The Burning Season where, “the plot concerns a young Indo-Canadian wife and mother who runs away to India in pursuit of her lover.” Here the film and our book match with the action that love is the reason for staying out of India. The second film, Desperately Seeking Helen, where “The film covers the complications in the relationship between Marjara and her mother, Devinder. Marjara had the perception that her mother was unable to balance the culture of Canada against that of India, and Devinder was more feminine and traditional compared to her daughter.” Here, the connection between Canada and India and family struggle are at odds. Lastly, the film, Gehri Chot – Urf: Durdesh, can connect the life of Maya in our book and her marriage to the Canada, with a child going back to India, where “Arun Khanna is an NRI from Toronto, Canada who marries a traditional Indian woman Shobha . They have a son named Raju and a daughter named Pinky . Shobha finds it difficult to fit into the Western lifestyle in Canada and eventually separates from Arun after suspecting him of an affair with his secretary. Shobha decides to take her son Raju back with her to India while Arun stays in Canada with his daughter Pinky.”
Compliment this reading with Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz , where Good Reads noted “Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods — and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal’s Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance.” Another great compliment would be The Illegal by Lawerance Hill, where Good Reads noted “all Keita has ever wanted to do is to run. Running means respect and wealth at home. His native Zantoroland, a fictionalized country whose tyrants are eerily familiar, turns out the fastest marathoners on earth. But after his journalist father is killed for his outspoken political views, Keita must flee to the wealthy nation of Freedom State—a country engaged in a crackdown on all undocumented people.” Lastly, a great compliment would be Birdie by Tracey Lindberg where Good Reads noted, “Birdie is a darkly comic and moving first novel about the universal experience of recovering from wounds of the past, informed by the lore and knowledge of Cree traditions. Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman, leaves her home in Northern Alberta following tragedy and travels to Gibsons, BC.”