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Authors: Anita Rau Badami

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The Hero's Walk

BOOK: The Hero's Walk
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The
Hero's Walk

THE NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Winner of the 2000 Marian Engel Prize
Shortlisted for the 2000 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize

“What a treat it is to read Anita Rau Badami.…
The Hero's Walk
is a novel of a traditional, nearly anachronistic, storytelling-as-transport kind; an escape, an entertainment—that mere but elusive thing most of us, after all, are seeking in good fiction.… Anita Rau Badami doesn't disappoint.”
National Post

“An unforgettable and heart-wrenching tale.”
Ottawa Citizen

“The Hero's Walk
is beautifully crafted—rich and lush.… It offers bittersweet epiphanies amidst life's tragedies and showcases a novelist on the move.”
Bill Richardson,
The Georgia Straight

“Recommended reading.”
'The Globe and Mail

“[Badami] has an amazing knack for hauling together the beauty, mess, joy and folly of ordinary people's lives.”
The Hamilton Spectator

“Her first novel was good, her second is marvellous.…
Badami's psychological insight illuminates every scene [and] breathes authentic life into her characters.… Read it.”
NOW

VINTAGE CANADA EDITION
, 2001

Copyright © 2000 by Anita Rau Badami

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in Canada by Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, in 2001. First published in hardcover in Canada by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, Toronto, in 2000. Distributed by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Vintage Canada and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House of Canada Limited.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Grove Atlantic, Inc., New York, for permission to quote from “There's No Forgetting (Sonata)” by Pablo Neruda, published in
Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda
in 1961. Translation copyright © 1961 by Ben Belitt.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Badami, Anita Rau, 1961–
The hero's walk

eISBN: 978-0-307-36395-4

I. Title.

PR9499.3.B18H37 2001    823    C00-932450-X

Visit Random House of Canada Limited's Web site:
www.randomhouse.ca

v3.1

For Aditya

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many thanks to Louise Dennys, my editor, for her astute comments, wisdom and guidance, and to Denise Bukowski for her unwavering faith and encouragement. Thanks also to Noelle Zitzer and Nikki Barrett for their editorial suggestions. I am particularly indebted to Ven Begamudré for his friendship and for finding time in his own busy life to provide an insightful critique of an early draft of this book. My gratitude to the Canada Council for financial support, to Shubi for sharing her journals with me, and to Madhav Badami for his constant love and support. Last but not least, I would like to thank The Centre for India and South Asia Research at the University of British Columbia for their assistance.

CONTENTS

1
BY THE EDGE OF THE SEA

I
T
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.

BOOK: The Hero's Walk
4.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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