New Internationalist

The Hero’s Walk

June 2001

On the balcony of a crumbling house in the dusty south Indian town of Toturpuram sits Sripathi Rao. He could have been a doctor or journalist but he failed to grasp his chances and instead he is an ageing and dissatisfied copywriter. Sripathi is busily writing letters to the newspapers, his one solace in a household composed of his scheming mother, melancholy unmarried sister and a wife and son for whom he feels little affection. His beloved daughter Maya has, as he sees it, betrayed him by marrying a Westerner and moving to Canada. He has not spoken to her for years and his life is a bitter and sterile compound of self-righteous loneliness.

A tragedy shatters this uneasy stasis; a phone call from Vancouver informs Sripathi that Maya and her husband have died in a car crash and he is named as the guardian of Maya’s seven-year-old daughter Nandana, the granddaughter he has never met.

The arrival of this grieving and bewildered little girl forces a peevish and selfish household into new relationships and, gradually, they begin to grow together as a family once more.

The Hero’s Walk is a wry and compassionate novel from a writer of genuine talent. Right from the atmospheric opening pages, as the telephone rings in the oppressive morning heat, we are drawn deep into the heart of this wounded, utterly compelling family. A domestic drama that could so easily have become mawkishly sentimental deepens as it develops and ends as a magnificent paean to family life in all its messy, fractious glory.

Peter Whittaker

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 335 This column was published in the June 2001 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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