Walking a hero’s walk isn’t an easy task. Not only do you carry your own responsibilities and troubles, you also carry the weight of those around you. The beauty of Hindu mythology is that it is full of layers and depth. It’s stories and characters go beyond the ideas of good and evil, which we often depict as two separate traits. Rather, each person is depicted to contain a certain amount of good and evil within them.
“The Hero’s Walk” a novel by Anita Rau Badami, is a story of grief, loss, and the repentance one seeks after re-evaluating their past wrong-doings. The narrative of the story switches fluidly between characters within Big House which give the story a oneness or a holistic feeling which we get when we understand the struggles between Sripathi and his wife and what happens within the confines of their home. Each situation and event in the novel are interwoven like the patterns on a rangoli decorated floor, though possibly not as beautiful nor harmonic.
The first part of the novel sets the stage for the dysfunctional and culturally-different aspects of Indian households. Each character living in their bodies, struggling to live within the crumbling ancestral home situated on the Bay of Bengal as one.
One of the most prominent women in the novel was Ammayya – the mother of Sripathi – who lives with them in Big House. Her background gave the impression that we’re to sympathize with the older woman because of the hardships she faced in her life which made her bitter. But her continued disappointment in her son and her selfishness and desire to obtain rather than to give in her life – which contended with my uncle – made her a character who was both victim and villain. Her death was one that matched her husbands in term of depth.
Putti, the daughter of Ammayya, stayed at home with her mother and Sripathi in the crumbling gem of Toturpuram. Threatened to be a spinster for the remainder of her days by the hand of her mother who turned down every man the matchmaker managed to find that complimented the aging woman, Putti’s duty as an unmarried daughter was to see to the care of her mother. Despite that, Putti looked out the grimy windows and longed for romance and for a better life and decided to obtain it for herself no matter the cost.
Nirmala, the wife of Sripathi, does her duties as a wife and mother but is tested when her estranged daughter Maya suddenly dies. Her role as the dutiful wife is strained when the grief and regret of losing a daughter she once knew gone from her life the second time. Yet she works with her husband to overcome this grief and to gain and even holds onto her religion throughout this whole ordeal.
At a young age, the son of any Indian household has the weight of the world on their shoulder’s, even if it is not known until they reach their school years. Sripathi was no exception. His father, Narasimha Rao, B.A., M.A., L.L.B., also instilled within his son the weight of responsibilities as a child. Testing him, challenging him, making sure his son grew up to be as successful as him. And even going so far as to forcefully show young Sripathi where he’d end up if he didn’t meet his standards.
The tale of Rama and Ravan in the Ramayana are continually used within the story. And just like this tale, the line between good and evil, hero and villain isn’t always clear.
Some people believe that Rama is the hero and Ravan the villain. (185)
In the Ramayana, both Rama and Ravan have their merits and demerits. The fact that one is depicted as the hero and the other the villain is merely by means of judgment when each of them has a mix of both goodness and evil. The story of Rama and Ravan is used to symbolize the hero’s walk in a much deeper way. Rather than walking with pride, as Nirmala had suggested on page 136, nor that of a braggart, the walk that defines a hero (especially in this story) is acceptance and change. A humble walk.
It emphasizes that a character (like Sripathi) isn’t bound by either being good or being bad, but it is to find the absolute truth that is every character like Ammayya who suffered at the hands of her husband but is terrible to her children, like Sripathi who’s own governed rules and duty to society and family have severed his relations with them, are anti-hero’s; flawed and imperfect and morally ambiguous.