Em and The Big Hoom
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Blurb (as on Goodreads):
In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, through the last decades of the twentieth century, lived four love-battered Mendeses: mother, father, son and daughter. Between Em, the mother, driven frequently to hospital after her failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the father, trying to hold things together as best he could, they tried to be a family.
A book that I’m gonna love and cherish forever.
Love is never enough. Madness is enough. It is complete, sufficient unto itself. You can only stand outside it as a woman might stand outside a prison in which her lover is locked up. From time to time, a well-loved face will peer out and love floods back. A scrap of cloth flutters and it becomes a sign and a code and a message and all that you want it to be. Then it vanishes and you are outside the dark tower again.
Em and The Big Hoom is a story about a woman Imelda Mendes aka Em, who is suffering from what doctors consider as nervous disorders such as Mania, Schizophrenia etc. (The exact diagnosis never happened). The plot has been narrated by her son, who lives with a constant fear that he might someday go mad, just like his mother.
If there was one thing I feared as I was growing up . . .
No, that’s stupid. I feared hundreds of things: the dark, the death of my father, the possibility that I might rejoice the death of my mother, sums involving vernier calipers, groups of schoolboys with nothing much to do, death by drowning.
But of all these, I feared the most the possibility that I might go mad too.
Em is one of those people can find humor in the darkest of the times. She’s sassy and chirpy, but those are the good times. The bad times bring out the crazy, delusional, hallucinating version of her. Times when nothing in the world comforts her and she just slips into the dark. Which then leads to cutting herself open.
Augustine aka The Big Hoom, Imelda’s husband is totally opposite to her. He’s is quiet and shy. An amazing husband to Imelda and an amazing father, The Big Hoom is responsible, mature and practical.
Em and The Big Hoom talks about multiple things, the most important being mental illness. It’s a humorous approach to mental illness and people prone to such things. The book points out the irony that exists in our society regarding suicidal tendencies observed is a lot of people nowadays.
Then there are topics such as Faith- the narrator seems to have lost faith in the Almighty because he couldn’t find solace. Most importantly, he couldn’t find an explanation for his Mom’s sufferings.
There was something capricious about God. How could one expect perfect submission from those who are imperfect? How could one create desire and then expect everyone to pull the plug on it? And if God were capricious, then God was imperfect. If God were imperfect, God was not God.
The final topic is family bonding. In spite of all the chaos, they stayed together as a family and supported each other through both good as well as tough times.
I wanted to understand her predicament because I was her son and I loved her with a helpless corroded love.
I personally loved the way Em and her personality was described. There are those ‘dark times’ which a person has and that’s when they need saving. The rest of the times. the person is as normal as you and me. A book where the urge to kill oneself was neither glorified nor condemned, just the harsh reality of life put down in words some of us will never find.
Concluding the review with some of my favorite quotes:
- “Home was where others had to gather grace. Home was what I wanted to flee.”
- “I know I want to marry you. But I wish we were the first to ever get married. I cannot help feeling that the institution has been somewhat corrupted and corroded by the misuse of others. We could show them, by a beyootiful and myoochooal respect for each other, how things must be conducted.”
- “Have I ever told you how much I love you? Well, darling, I am telling you now…”
- “It is like oil. Like molasses, slow at first.Then one morning I woke up and it was flowing free and fast. I thought I would drown in it. I thought it would drown little you and Susan. I got up, got dressed and went out onto the road and tried to jump in front of a bus. I thought it would be a final thing, quick like a bang. Only , it wasn’t.”
- “And then we discovered that love was about memory and something had disrupted her store of our collective memories.”
Did you read this? Would you read it ever? Do you avoid books based on themes like self-harm and maniac behaviors?