The novel “People on our Roof” by Shefali Tripathi Mehta presents a heart-warming narrative about family, relationships, love, and commitment.
The novel follows Naina, who lives in a south Delhi colony bungalow with her mother, sister, and the stigma of madness running in their family. As memories surface, she sets out in search of the truth behind her father’s disappearance, and it soon unspools her past.
The story also explores the world of people whose minds are wired differently.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
3:24 am—the neon digits glowed in the darkness.
Michael’s flight to Bombay was at 9. He had to meet someone there before taking the late-night flight to Melbourne. Naina lay in bed looking outside at the inky silhouette of the madhukamini bush against the unlit sky.
Once, while playing under it as a little girl, she had spotted a pair of birds twittering above, fetching twigs, string, and grass in their beaks. When a nest began to form, she could not hold her curiosity and climbing on a stool, stood on tiptoes to peer inside the neat grass bowl. Three aqua-coloured eggs—each the size of a large grape; lay inside like a picture.
Excited, she ran inside to tell Nana.
After Nana had had a look, he asked her to get a notebook and write about it.
‘What shall I write, Nana?’
‘Write today’s date and all that you’ve seen—the bird, the nest, the eggs—describe them. Then, every day write down what happens, the changes you see.’
He helped her identify the bird in the cherry-colour, leather-bound Salim Ali book. In her neat, round, cursive handwriting, she wrote—Red-vented Bulbul.
Every day at lunchtime, Nana would ask her about the birds. She drew the birds, the nest, and the tree in the notebook. Nana called these ‘diagrams’. So, when Anjali called her to play house, feeling very important, Naina told her she was making diagrams.
One day, when she was standing on the stool looking at the featherless baby birds whose eyes bulged out of their translucent pink skins; wanting to touch them, Nana came and stood behind her. She could smell his Brylcreem. When he passed away some months later, and she slept with Nani on their bed, she could smell Nana’s Brylcreem on the pillow.
She could smell it now.
Michael was leaving.
‘Why me, Nani!’ Seized by despair, she had burst out one day.
‘Laado dekho, see, God has to distribute happiness and sorrow, success and difficulties among us all. He gave you these because he knows you are brave and strong.’ Naina did not want to be brave and strong. She just wanted everyone in her house to be normal. Like it was for her friends. She wanted someone by her side when she did her homework; she wanted someone to get her a lollipop when they got home from the bazaar; for someone to tell the other kids that it was her turn on the swing; and when she wore her best frock, for someone to say she looked like a princess. Most of all she wanted to be called a princess.
What was it that she read in Michael’s eyes as he held her hand for a fleeting moment last night when he had come to say goodbye? He kissed an unwilling Tara on the head and put his arm around Raju who seemed very sad to see him go. He had held Naina’s hand, throwing his other arm around her in an awkward hug. She looked long after him as he rode away; the sound of his Enfield kept reverberating in the distance.