In The Armchair

The Hero’s Walk: Anita Rau Badami

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on October 6, 2007

There is a pattern among Indian authors writing novels in English. The novel usually concerns the developments surrounding an ordinary event, something that happens a million times every day everywhere in the world. The character development is intense and multi-layered. The book will have several interesting characters, all somehow connected to the immediate events. The timeline, driven by the character development, is chaotic, jumping smoothly back and forth between the immediate events and the past. There are stories within stories within stories: a broad flow, the stories and substories of each of the characters, leading to a narrative frequency spectrum, or a raconteur’s fractal. The entire spectrum of emotions is on offer. The plot and the ending appear less important than the sensory immersion. Above all is a saturating, distinct Indianness. If the author is successful, all of these combine into a smooth tapestry, where the reader can absorb all the elements without confusion. Amitav Ghosh, Manil Suri and Anita Rau Badami are authors of this style I’ve read who have managed to pull this off.

Anita Rau’s The Hero’s Walk is a book in this mould. It starts off with a catastrophic event and its consequences, meandering through the lives of a collection of folk in a sleepy town somewhere near Chennai. The central character is Sripathi, a disgruntled, disillusioned, aging man who feels his lack of success keenly. The story is about how he, his family and the people surrounding him deal with tragedies, common and individual, and how they get on with life after.

Anita Rau takes a more Indian approach to the dialogue than many other Indian authors. Her book abounds in such Indian-isms as “quick-quick” and the emphatic “only”. Anita Rau manages to capture the milieu, both emotional and physical, in the little town. In particular, her treatment of caste hierarchies in India is more balanced than Arundhati Roy’s in The God of Small Things, accurately capturing the “generation component” of caste-related sentiments. Unlike in Roy’s work, the emotions and reactions of Anita Rau’s characters are believable and seem accurate. The downsides, if they can be called that, to the novel are the subdued and often unhappy storyline and the open ending, a staple of Indian authors.

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