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Setting is a device used by most authors, to represent the elements of time, place and social context in their work. These elements help in creating a mood, building a character or providing credibility to the events that take place during the time period of the novel. Throughout the novel, The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami, different proportions of these elements are revealed to help the plot move forward. This novel is set in a town of Toturpuram situated in India; telling a story about the hardships of an middle class Indian family who have been living in the same house for several decades. The story revolves around a Canadian-raised orphan's clash between tradition and modernity, who is forced to live with her grandparents in India, after losing both her parents in a car accident. This novel is a wise and affectionate portrait of middle class life in India during the 20th century. The religious influence, traditional culture and weak political system of India have been accurately reflected in this novel.
India is known as the land of spirituality and philosophy, as it has been a birthplace for several religions that exist in today's world. The religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism have all been originated on the land of India. However the religion that is practiced by majority of the population and believed to be one of the oldest religions in the world is Hinduism. The religion is the way of life in India. All the main characters in this novel are also the followers of Hinduism, who are impacted by religion in one way or another. Badami has incorporated the religion into these characters' lives very cunningly throughout the novel.
Hinduism believes in the birth and reincarnation of souls, which are immortal and imperishable. A soul is a part of a jiva, the limited being, who is subject to the impurities of attachment, delusion and laws of karma (www.hinduwebsite.com). This novel helps the readers understand the lives of middle class families in India during the 20th century, which were greatly influenced by the religion. The example of such a character is Raju, who even blames god for the unfortunate condition of his life, when he says, "That bastard god up there must have decided: 'This bloke is laughing and smiling too much. Give him a taste of something nasty.' I must have been a murdering rogue in my last life, and now I am paying for it." (Badami, 121). In most Hindu families, the first bit knowledge received by a new born child is always something related to the religion. The children are taught about the history of their religion, their gods and goddesses and much more, even before they know how to walk properly. There is an similar instance in the novel where Nandana starts praying to "Hanuman to send her parents back to her; the brave monkey god, â€¦ who always helped people in trouble" (Badami, 250). At this point of time, Nandana is not really aware of the significance of Hanuman in her religion, but she just starts praying because that is what she has been told to do from the time she was born. Earlier in the novel, Sripathi says that he doesn't believe in god or any religion. However, later in the story when he is suffering from most difficult time of his life, he also starts praying and believing in god, in hope for a better life. The Rao family even has a separate room dedicate to god known as "Prayer room", where all the members of the family pray to god at least once a day. The room is full of statues of god, posters of different gods and goddesses and some sacred texts of Hinduism. This shows how and why people of India in the 20th century were deeply dependent and influenced by religion throughout their lives.
"Unity in diversity" is the perfect phrase that describes a country like India, which is incredibly rich in culture and heritage (www.mapsofindia.com). The languages, dance, music, religions and customs differ from one place to another in India; still possessing a sense of commonality all over the nation. The caste system is one of the main highlights of the Indian culture, being one of the oldest and biggest caste systems around the world. "India is home to several thousand ethnic groups, tribes, castes, and religions. The castes and subcastes in each region relate to each other through a permanent hierarchical structure, with each caste having its own name, traditional occupation, rank, and distinctive subculture" (http://www.everyculture.com ). There are five different categories or levels in this caste system: Brahman, Harijans, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra within Hinduism. Within each of those categories are the actual castes, which people are born, marry, and die, and have their own place among each other. This system has worked well for hundreds of years and still plays a major role in modern India (http://www.csuchico.edu ). Badami has effectively used the model of caste system in her novel to provide the readers with an insight of Indian culture during the time period of the novel. There are some important events that take place in the novel, which are direct reflections of the caste system of India. When Maya marries a guy who she loves while studying in Canada, her parents Sripathi Rao and Nirmala decide "to cut off' their own daughter for marrying out of caste, religion and race" (Badami, 319). There is an another instance of caste system playing an important role in the novel, when Ammaya denies Putti of getting married to Gopala because of his lower caste in the society. Even the street where the Big House is located is called "Brahmin Street"; showing the deep roots of the caste system in India's society. "The Indian Social System is mostly based on the Joint family System because of its culture and traditions. The families are closely knit with Grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandsons sharing the same spirit, tradition and property" (www.indianmirror.com). It can be also seen in the novel that Sripathi, being the eldest male member in the family, is the head of the family who makes all important decisions. And rest of the family members are forced to abide by those decisions. In conclusion, the caste system and the joint family system are the main highlights of Indian culture, which is so diverse that it changes in different parts of the country.
India is a land of festivals and fairs. Every day of the year, there is a festival celebrated in part of the country or another. There are festivals that celebrate the harvest, the seasons of the year, the full moon or the birthdays of divine beings, saints or gurus (www.kamat.com). Some of these festivals are also celebrated in this novel, which includes festivals like Deepawali and Yugadi. The festival of Deepawali is known as the festival of lights, celebrated on the return of Hindu god Rama, from a 14 years of banishment. In this novel, this festival is used as a means of bringing back a long gone happiness (light) to the "Big House". This is the festival, when Nandana starts talking to everyone for the first time in the house, everyone buys new clothes and burst firecrackers etc. (Badami, 243). On this occasion, Putti also gets married to Gopala, bringing joy to the Rao family for the first time since Maya had left the house. Another festival is celebrated in the novel, which marks the beginning of the new year according to Hindu calendar, called Yugadi (literally meaning 'the beginning of the year').
India was ruled for over 300 years by Britishers, before gaining its independence in 1947. After about 60 years of its independence, India now has one of the largest constitutions compared to any democratic country in the world. However, during the time period of this novel, this political system of India was still very young; containing many flaws in it. It obviously takes time for a country such as India to put a fully fledged political system in place but things such as corruption, increasing terrorism and unethical political practices just made it worse. "The most damaging weakness of India's political class is its lack of credibility. Regardless of the truth, people at large are convinced that the entire political class is corrupt" (www.allvoices.com). This is also evident in the novel when Sripathi expresses his views about politicians - all of them are corrupt, and only become rich by stealing money from the poor and helpless (Badami, 232). At the time of this novel, terrorism, naxalism and religious violence were some of the main political issues that exploited the weaknesses of the political parties. The politicians had to hire goons for their own security and to make sure that everything was under control. There is an incident in the novel when Sripathi's neighbour asks him about his views on the naxalism in Assam, and then Sripathi describes it as, "Gol-maal politics as usual" (Badami, 158). This shows the amount of frustration a middle class person had to go through because of the weak political system at that point of time. At an another instance, he also addresses politicians as corporate thugs and mafia who run police stations and other assorted crooks (Badami, 155).
The author has incorporated the details about religious influence on Indian population, their culture and their young political system very intelligently in this novel. Hinduism is practiced by over 80% of India's population, making it one of the biggest religions in India. The religion had a huge impact on people's lives during the time period of the novel. It also acted as the root of various cultures and traditions that can be found in different parts of India today. The weak political system of India has also been accurately depicted in this novel. All the above details suggest that this novel by Anita Rau Badami, gives the readers an accurate insight into a middle class Indian person's life during mid 20th century.
Works Cited List
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