Anita Rau Badami on culture shock and the transformation of India
Anita Rau Badami is the author of four novels, all set in India and Canada, with characters caught in the currents of overlapping cultures. The Hero's Walk is the story of a large Indian family whose lives are changed when their orphaned Canadian granddaughter comes to live with them. The patriarch of the house, Sripathi Rao, struggles with his crumbling house and his disintegrating dreams. The Hero's Walk was published 15 years ago, and has been selected for Canada Reads 2016, where it will be defended by actor/director Vinay Virmani. Anita Rau Badami spoke to Shelagh Rogers from Montreal.
ON CHILDREN AND CULTURE SHOCK
We always think about this place [Canada] as the place people come to to get away, to be safe. I started thinking about what it would be like if somebody had to go back to a context that was familiar in the sense that it was a familiar cultural context and yet a very unfamiliar world. So I started thinking about what it would be like if my son, for instance, had to abandon everything that was familiar, and went back to a place that sort of belonged to him but didn't really. To [Nandana, the orphaned Canadian girl in The Hero's Walk], it looks like the planet Mars. Everything is bizarre, mysterious, fascinating. She's gone from a very orderly place to a place where mayhem is everywhere, a place where she knows nobody, where she sees animals all over the streets, where everything is unfamiliar.
ON EXAMINING THE IMPACT OF INDIA'S CHANGING SOCIETY
When I wrote the book, I would think about my grandmother. I think she was about 80 at that point, and she had seen such a huge number of changes. Until she was about 20, India was part of the British empire and then the British left and there was the whole independence process. India went from an agrarian population to an industrialized nation, and then on top of that, in the 1970s there was quite a large exodus of young people from India to foreign shores, and so there was this sudden rift in society. How did people deal with it, the ones that stayed? These were the kind of things I was trying to deal with in this book.
Anita Rau Badami's comments have been edited and condensed.