Reviewed by: Dr. Jailaxmi R Vinayak
This is a story of a woman who fights her battle all alone unapplauded
A caregiver’s tale
The plot of People on our Roof by Shefali Tripathi Mehta revolves around Naina, Tara, Amma and Raju the house keeper.The protagonist Naina has a chequered life with a schizophrenic mother and an autistic sister to look after. Initially she had the support of her grandparents. The gruesome death of her grandfather, abandoned by her own father and the subsequent demise of her grandmother leaves her alone to take care of her Amma and sister Tara. The readers are made to realise the grim fact that the escapist father was unable to shoulder the responsibility. As the story unfolds gradually one discovers that there is much under the carpet.
The story is definitely sad. In words of the author “It is a pity that the world will empathize with you if you have cancer, but not if there is some error in the wiring of your brain.” It is sad because Naina has to grapple with life in the beginning, giving tuitions, getting rejected in interviews many a times, but finally gets a job of content writing. She does come in contact with four men in her lives. Deepak, Uday, Michael and Anand. Each one has a background. Really speaking, is a woman ever given a chance to select her life partner unless it is a love marriage? Suitors come and go but she is always coerced to marry regardless of her inclinations. Marriage is always overrated, a compulsion for girls to enter the wedlock. That's what Preeti aunty tries to do with Naina, suggesting a boy for marriage. In Naina's case she is independent. She can choose, discern and be judgemental. Shefali has dexterously highlighted the burdensome issues faced by a young woman who is seemingly ostracised by the society for no fault of hers. She is condescended and spurned. A woman who fights her battle all alone unapplauded.
“I am sorry, beta. I didn't know. You know what that Pallavi said?........Preeti ji, do you think any normal boy would come forward to marry her?”
There are many such women who may wallow in self-pity and dejection but emerge out with steely determination like Naina.
Shefali has been closely associated with ‘Arushi’, an organisation that works with children with disabilities. She has been writing on disability awareness and social issues hence she sensitively brings out the psychological trauma of such children through Tara's portrayal.
Naina's deep seated anguish for her father's abandonment impels her to search for him but is she successful in her quest? There are twists and surprises in the novel which makes it gripping and it does end on a positively sunny note.
We find that Shefali has more or less a good chemistry with Uday. So do we see a silver lining in the sky and a light down the dark tunnel? It is then left for the readers to explore.
There are some amusingly weaved phrases by the author which catch one's eye.
“The sun dripped down furiously”.
“Mop of haystack hair”.
“Ramprasad's face with his big louki seed teeth...... his body slanting forward like her cursive letter L”.
“....the place transformed into an office, as if an invisible hand had set the pieces back into their designated places on a giant jigsaw puzzle”.
Shefali has assiduously described the mundane routine of a working girl whose life is replete with getting her way into crowded buses, facing eve teasing, and witnessing sometimes common and obscene sights. The author has sensitively portrayed scenes. One such scene is where Naina has a desire to get her nose pierced and Uday goads her to do the same. Most women place their priorities first and seem to sidetrack their inmost wishes.
A time also comes when Naina too starts hallucinating that she can hear voices of people on her roof like her mother and thinks morbidly that she too may land up like her Amma and speculates if she has that streak of schizophrenia.
Shefali Tripathi Mehta is a prolific writer and it's a pleasure to read her novels. She welcomes readers to an unexplored, unvisited land of psychological issues and the consequent grave results of which people are unaware. Naina reflects the unassuming, simple straightforward, patient and humble personality of her creator and that is what makes the character of Naina ticking.
Bookaholicanonymous thanks Dr. Jailaxmi R Vinayak for this review…please keep writing and contributing!
About the reviewer: Dr. Jailaxmi R Vinayak is a writer, poet and singer. She is an Ex member of Delhi Poetree'. Recipient of International Women's Award in 2003, she is an author of books in Hindi and English of short stories, poetry and anecdotes titled ‘Shades of Women’, ‘Songs of Eternity’, ‘A Penny for your Thoughts’, ‘Jiwan ke kai Rang’ and ‘Coffee & Cookies’ in 2019. Her articles have been published in Fauji India, Sainik Samachar, Developing India Mirror, Femina, Dainik Bhaskar, Indian Express Pune and AWWA magazine. Her poetry ‘The Beautiful Mind’ was appreciated by none other than the former President of India Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In his words “I have gone through your book of beautiful poems and I liked particularly the poem ‘The beautiful Mind’”
A doctorate in English Literature and a Sangeet Prabhakar from Prayag, she has been a student of Late Vasundhara Komkali wife of Late Pt. Kumar Gandharv, Smt Aparna Dasgupta of Indore, Maharaj Madhav Raje of Khandwa and Sharma sisters, granddaughters of Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya and disciples of Pt. Onkarnath.