I am always skeptical about the way arranged marriages work and when I came across a fiction about a husband and wife who havent spoke with each other for about an year after marriage,I didnt have a second thought of grabbing it.
“Strangers on the roof” is an english translation of Hindi novel written by Rajendra Yadev in early 1960s. The story opens with a wedding ceremony where a confused ambitious young man is wed-locked with an educated woman. Samar,the protagonist, was too concerned about his studies and wants to evade marriage,but his parents offer him no choice. Though we arent told about Prabha’s orientation towards marriage,one could glean that she is of the same kind too.
The family has handful of brothers and a sister who is living with them after an unsuccessful marriage. Samar has an elder brother who is married and hence we get another character Bhabi. The family is struggling to make their ends meet and marriages are indeed a source of income when they bring in the girl with handful of dowry. The story gives you an inkling of how a family maintains itself in a claim to be orthodox. We come across rituals which doesnt make sense and education rather than being looked as virtue is being treated as a vice when it comes to Prabha.
The novel sustains its interest,because you are told on the backcover that Prabha and Samar indeed spoke. But during first half of the novel we are presented with situations where they misunderstand each other without having a word spoken. Samar is scared of taking additional burdens and Praba appears to be too self-virtuous to plead him for a relationship. But at the same time Praba bends to all the tasks put forth her which keeps her busy from dawn to dusk. She has no-one to complain to and she never does. Prabha is being mocked everyday by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law , Samar stays indifferent towards it.
But internally Samar starts to long for her presence,he is obsessed about her whereabouts, and at many times when is about to confess it,she comes across as a threat to his ego,so he keeps going non-chalant. Samar is more concerned about his impending intermediate exams than her. But one fine day as promised in the back-cover they do get to speak after a heightened drama in the house.
Through Samar’s friend Diwakar we get to meet Diwakar’s cousin Shisesh who appears to be the voice of the author. He questions traditions and points out its better to live in nuclear families with love for each other,rather than living together with hatred. Those conversations were sufficient to rise an iota of doubt in the Samar’s traditional thoughts. We get to see the struggle the couple had to undergo to claim their dreams. Later when Praba starts to speak ,we hear about her dreams of being independent,and you get stumped on how this lady was able to wear the mistress hat in the house serving half-a-dozen people as their slaves.
The rest of the novel is all about their desires,dreams and despair. The narration reveals a change in mindset of rising middleclass during those times. Its a common place now that we have nuclear families,but during the times of these novel I guess,it wasnt so common.
Youth isnt all dazzling as one imagines and the novel rightly balances itself in framing both the bright and dark sides of it. If you are someone who is about to get married or just married,the novel would make lots of sense. Even otherwise,its a peek back in to our times.