Review of The Roof Beneath Their Feet; Geetanjali Shree; translated by Rahul Soni; Rs 299; pp 156
- Shana Susan Ninan
On the first glance, the title was oxymoronic – don’t we always talk about the roof above our heads? But here, the roof plays two different roles – one that stifles people inside it, and one that’s liberating when people are on it. In the author’s words, “a story is not necessarily ‘told’, it is ‘experienced’. People’s past and memories are reconstructed and rearranged, things left out, added on.
In her novels, Geetanjali Shree brings forward conversations and narrations that deal with people’s past and memories, the idea of physical space, and of course, strong women characters. In The Roof Beneath Their Feet, memories take a tactile form, weaving in and out of the readers’ minds. Strong and memorable metaphors, the roof being the most used and the most significant one, are a signature of the author. Lalna, one of the protagonists, is compared to the stories that wander the roof: carefree and unrestrained. Lalna belongs to no home nor hearth, but to the roof. A place where she can be herself.
The roof represents freedom and uninhibited expression of the freedom – people gather together for hanging clothes, flying kites, meeting clandestinely, and to generally chill out. The roof is an extension of their minds. For Chhacho and Lalna, the friendship that forms between them takes shape on the roof, at night, when the rest of the mohalla have slept. They sneak up to watch the sky, to let their hair down, to leave their goonghats on the parapets, to lift their blouses and fan themselves in the horrid heat, to… and many things that women are usually forbidden from.
After Chhacho’s death, her nephew and Lalna piece together their memories of her, amid the chaotic households that surround them. In real life, too, it’s often after a person’s death we put together our thoughts and memories of them, trying to figure out how and why they shaped our lives.
The book is special for me for three reasons – it was gifted by a close friend; the book’s cover photo was shot by my husband’s uncle and famous photographer Saibal Das; a one-line review of the book in one of the inside pages is written by a professor who taught me in CIEFL!