Book: Em and the Big Hoom
Author: Jerry Pinto
Bookhad Rating: ❤❤❤❤❤
The Big Hoom will sit by her bed and she will hold his forearms as he reads the paper. From time to time, she will say, ‘Mambo?’
And he will put down the paper and look at her.
‘Nothing’, she will say.
And he will begin to read again.
Writing a review for a book that has attained the heights of Jerry Pinto’s novel is an exercise that would haunt anyone who attempts to do it. It has been haunting me ever since I finished reading it, and I read it twice. I didn’t want something to be missed that was an integral part of the reading experience, but since when has that made a very big difference.
Em and the Big Hoom is a novel based in the city of Bombay before cell phones and on-the-go communication had permeated the slow lives of an average city dweller. The story is woven around the Mendes’, a Roman Catholic Family (or, if one was to ask Em, the Roaming Cat Licks) of four. They live in a small house (four hundred and twenty square feet to be precise) at Mahim and the story is of this small family in the equation where nothing much is balanced, not unlike the average life of any middle class family with their own ghosts hidden under floorboards and inside cupboards.
Em, or Imelda Mendes, is a woman suffering from manic depression.
Hoom, or Augustine Mendes, is her husband who loves her in ways that we cannot fathom.
Susan, their daughter, is a girl who has unconsciously grown in a speed unknown to any, but the one who is pushed into the vortex of human existence by force against their very will.
Baba, as he’s called, is their son, narrates the story with utmost honesty and unassailable sincerity and clarity that makes the reader get up and take note of the depth to which the human thought can get morbid, and, at the same time seem acceptable because we all know it comes from the depth of the known truth. Known, but never uttered.
If one would want to explain the story in a few lines it would be a simple enough task. It is a story about how Em’s family copes with her medical condition. It is their journey from the time Em starts slacking and ends with her return to normalcy.
Until it starts all over again.
But, explaining the story like this leaves a lot to be desired. Not very much unlike the narrator, it makes the more experienced reader yearn for more details, more juxtaposition of the enigmatic relationship between Em and Hoom, between Em and her kids and between Em and the world at large.
Her mania is like a tap which fills her up with despair and wishes death for her. Life in the Mendes’ household is not of the normal everyday that we see and Pinto infuses a vigorous personality in the text by employing the narrator’s tone who would seem at times caustic, at times nonchalant and at times pained; but at all times with honesty.
Nobody finds out what got Em to the point of her life when she started hallucinating and, in the bigger picture, I don’t think it would have been relevant apart from being satisfied that it at least has a reason. She sees life through wildly coloured lenses that reduces the ‘normal’ to a subterranean adventure that rises and falls with no identifying trajectory.
The story is of Em, a patient herself, but a star patient in the JJ Hospital (Ward 33) who helps the ayah clean up after some patient vomits and then cajoling some other to eat their food. She is at home there. It is like a miniscule time off before she comes back to the dreary surroundings when she calms down and stops needing someone else to look after her. But that ends and life is thrown again in turmoil when the effects of the drugs wear off.
It is the story of Imelda and Augustine’s past when they fell in love. It smacks of innocence and child-like purity that Imelda possesses. It was perhaps Imelda having that innocence and not having that shrewdness that reels Augustine in.
It is the story of how Baba idolizes Hoom and cannot foresee a future when he would not be around to teach him his life’s lessons; to take control of Em because nobody else could anyway; to be the strong wall between him and all that could’ve been.
Hoom is the silent knight, the strength of their collective lives and the man who knows his way around the quagmire that their lives have become. He says a few words, but those few words teach baba all those lessons that nobody else could. It gives him the power to say those things aloud, to himself, all the time knowing, that he is responsible for his words and nobody else could rescue him from them.
To write a review is to see a story through a kaleidoscope of views, to see it shimmering as a tale of passionate human behavior and then, to see it through the other end of the spectrum, as a cold stockpile of verbs and nouns. Em and the Big Hoom is a story that can be read and re-read as many times as one desires. It is one of those books that doesn’t need a story to exhilarate the reader. It is a book that tells a story, but which is not why it was written.
Jerry Pinto, in my opinion, is a good example of someone who follows the dictum of ‘show and not tell’. His language is beautiful and his vocabulary colourful and large. I would use the word exotic, but I will embarrass myself by falling to standards of clichés and drama without adding texture. He is a wordsmith and one of the first stops for beginners of literary writing in India; the first stone that needs to be tread, the first battle that needs to be fought to appreciate the hidden meaning in prose.
The reading was an experience that will not be forgotten. The story of Em and Hoom will resonate well with every reader for a long time to come.