Review: ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by Jerry Pinto

Have you ever had a thought that you felt incredibly guilty for having? Perhaps wishing ill of someone for your own selfish reasons. Perhaps knowingly telling yourself a comforting lie. I’ve had my fair share of such instances. And when the narrator had similar thoughts and called himself out, I couldn’t not feel as if he wasn’t talking to me, poking my conscious.

Jerry Pinto has a brilliant writing style throughout this book. He is also a poet, and it shows. There were many passages that made me stop and marvel at how effortlessly the text read but yet delivered quite a blow.

“Love is a hollow word which seems at home in song lyrics and greeting cards until you fall in love and discover it’s disconcerting power. Depression means nothing more than the blues, commercially packaged angst, a hole in the ground; until you find its black weight settled inside your mother’s chest, disrupting her breathing, leaching her days, and yours, of color and the nights of rest.”

The title ‘Em and the big Hoom’ doesn’t make sense unless you start the book, or someone explains it to you. This story is mainly about the author’s quest to understand his mother, Imelda (Em), and her mental illness and an attempt to describe how the rest of them, including his sister Susan and his father Augustine (a.k.a. the big Hoom), deal with it.

I believe it’s a futile exercise to discuss the plot of the book because it isn’t the main point. The non-linear narrative strikes a decent balance between the times when Em was ‘normal’ and the only way the narrator has ever known her: mad (the word Em would have for herself amongst the labels and diagnoses earned across the years).

Back in 2012, when this book came out, I don’t think there were as many conversations about mental health as there are today (which are still less). Obviously, the mental state of the caregivers and the disruption of their lives would barely have a mention. I think book does a good job shedding some light on it. If you haven’t personally experienced yourself or someone close go through a ‘not-normal’ mental state, I do believe you might find it difficult to just ‘get’ this book. I’ve not always had the best of mental health, yet I think there were parts in the book that I would write off as extreme or “that’s not how it is” if I didn’t have an open mind.

One part that I felt cheated on was the humor that I was promised by some of the blurbs and many of the reviews. Pinto has his own style which obviously resonates with a lot of people as evident by the awards the book has won (The Hindu Literary Prize, the Crossword Book Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize), but I was led to expect much more humor than I was able to comprehend. But that’s just my attempt to adjust your expectations, I still recommend you grab a copy of this book (which, by the way, looks beautify with its purple cover and page edges, and the illustration by Pinto himself). Oh, and a box of tissues. Or ten.

Featured Image by Mahita Gandhi.

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