Book review: People on Our Roof by Shefali Tripathi Mehta
People On Our Roof by Shefali Tripathi Mehta. Niyogi Books.
Naina, the heroine of Shefali Tripathi Mehta’s book , People On Our Roof, is a most interesting woman, someone most women will identify with. Managing a job, running a house, looking after an ailing parent and a vulnerable sibling, getting over a break-up, all with no real support system to speak of, Naina keeps many balls up in the air, trying not to let any of them fall.
The strength of the book, however, is that Naina is not drawn as a tragic figure. She is a feisty woman dealing with all the difficult cards that life has dealt her in the best way possible. Though she has her moments of self- pity, she never wallows in it. In fact, she is admirably single-minded in her quest to make a decent life for her family and herself.
The challenges are many, though, and chief among them is her Amma, who is mentally unwell. Though the title of the book alludes to the delusions Naina’s mother suffers from, the tragedy and pain of mental illness is portrayed without dwelling too much on it, along with the responsibilities and tension of a caregiver, and the harsh view that society takes of people suffering from mental illness.
Naina is thrust into the position of being primary caregiver due to circumstances. The loneliness, sadness and trepidation of having no parent or elder to share the burden is brought out well. Her attachment to her sister with special needs, Tara, is also well delineated.
The characters who people Nina’s world are all interesting, be it the person Naina seems to be attracted to, a colleague at office who remains a constant in her life, or even a man she briefly considers marrying. Interestingly, none of these characters are used as crutches by her, despite her frangible position. Men are not viewed as saviours in this story; they may come to Naina’s aid, even lend her a much needed helping hand, but ultimately she makes her own way.
The story shifts between past and present but is easy to follow, mainly because of the author`s no- frills style of writing. We view all the characters through Naina’s eyes, their stories come alive through her perspective.
Then, a predictable arc is not given to Naina’s life as the story ends. Because Naina is Everywoman, struggling with her lot, stumbling along the way, picking herself up and carrying on. Naina’s problems may be particular to her but her way of handling it and the strength she finds to do so, will seem both familiar and worth emulating.
People On Our Roof by Shefali Tripathi Mehta/226 pages/Niyogi Books/Rs 399.