Written by Bond as a 17-year-old, the story of The Room on the Roof is a semi-autobiographical work. It is a tale about an Anglo-Indian orphan boy named Rusty. He lives with his guardian Mr Harrison (a Missionary) and his wife in Dehradun.
Mr Harrison wants him to be groomed with English values and to avoid contact with Indian influences. However, Rusty is frustrated by his guardian’s stern restrictions and suffocating environment.
The Room on the Roof Summary
A Day to Walk Free
One rainy day, Rusty meets a boy called Somi. He offers Rusty a ride on his bicycle. Rusty roams the bazaar with his new friend and joins in with other friends of Somi.
Enjoying the newfound freedom Rusty finds solace in companionship and camaraderie. He feels unbridled joy as he finally has some space away from constant surveillance under his pesky guardian.
The Moment of Action
Soon the story moves to the occasion of Holi. Ranbir, a new Indian friend, coaxes Rusty into playing with colours. Rusty enjoys the colours with his friends and in the process messes up his clothes.
After a whole day of frolics, he returns to his house. At first, Mr Harrison does not recognize him. As soon as he realizes that it was Rusty, Mr Harrison starts beating him mercilessly.
Rusty, unable to control his aggression, fights him back. Already on an edge due to past atrocities, he retaliates this time. When the missionary’s wife approaches he makes an escape through the window.
An Encounter With Harsh Reality
Homeless, he spends the night outside as his friends had gone to their houses. He learns the tough reality of the world and the lonely vigil for an orphan.
In the morning, Somi collects brings him to his house. Rusty is determined not to return to his cruel guardian’s house even though he is staring at bleak prospects. Somi helps Rusty to get a teaching job.
He becomes an English tutor to Kishen Kapoor, a young Punjabi boy. Mr and Mrs Kapoor are generous people and offer a room on the roof to stay.
Mr Kapoor is an alcoholic and almost 20 years older than his wife, Meena. Rusty is soon infatuated by Meena’s beauty. To his surprise, Meena also reciprocated the admiration as he feels unloved by her husband.
They even share a kiss while out for a picnic in a jungle. But it was not to be. One day, Mr and Mrs Kapoor leave for Delhi. After a few days, Rusty gets the tragic news of Meena’s death in a car accident. Kishen is devastated and Rusty feels orphaned again in his young life.
Accepting Grief & Moving On
Kishen’s aunt who lives in Hardwar comes to take him away leaving Rusty all alone. After a few days of wallowing and self-pity, Rusty makes a decision to go to England. He knows that he will need to visit the British consulate in Delhi for the arrangements of his travel.
He stops at Hardwar on his way to Delhi to say his goodbyes to Kishen. He learns that Mr Kapoor has already remarried. Kishen, unable to deal with his mother’s death, has taken to a life of crime and become a thief. He is a wanted felon.
Rusty meets Kishen and has a heart-to-heart with him. He advises him to quit thieving as he still feels responsible for Kishen. After all, he knows what it feels to be sad, alone and confused. He has had his fair share of tragedy and loss.
The story exposes the pangs of loneliness that is a tough reality for an orphaned child. The deteriorating condition of an orphan provides a grim reminder to the readers of the plight of those that are forgotten by society.
Furthermore, the theme of youthful rebellion depicted in the story highlights the dangers of unchecked teenage rebellion. It can lead to disillusionment and even to the dark corners of crime and misery.