Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto | Book Review

5 months ago Shaili Desai 0

There is an extremely poignant moment in Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto when Imelda says this.

Because the sky is so high and the crow shat in your left eye.

I could tell you a lie but I don’t see why.

The world is a game and the game is a tie.

The tie is around your neck and they’ll string you high.

-Imelda Mendes, Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

What looks like gibberish spoken by a manic depressive woman in the story, may just be the crux of this novel. The book, Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, is a story of the Mendes family – Imelda (Em) and Augustine (The Big Hoom) Mendes, their daughter Susan and the son – the unnamed narrator of the story. They live in a one-bedroom flat in Mahim, Mumbai erstwhile Bombay. Imelda suffers from manic depression and their story circles around their mother’s affliction as well as the rock solid dependability of their father.

The narrator’s journey through Em and the Big Hoom

The narrator struggles to cope with her disease. At first, he attempts to understand the reason for her depression. He tries to piece together history – how his mother was brought up, how their parents met, and various experiences they had. All in order to understand. There must be a reason for the madness, no? When he fails at that, he progresses towards trying to make her feel better. He understands soon that his methods are vain. Sometimes it’s all too much for him – he’s just a kid after all. His feelings are natural – there is angst, hurt, self pity and a desire for normalcy. There is a frustration for the role reversal that he didn’t sign up for. He needed a mother – instead he is forced to take care of one. Quite frequently, he fights the thought of running away from it all. In those unthinking moments, he wonders whether he could end it all by killing her. There is also the fear of his father dying and leaving him to take of Em. And yet, the glue binding the story is the tremendous amount of love he feels for her, present somewhere in the background – subtle yet making its presence felt.

In spite of the madness, Imelda is a lovable character. She is smart and funny. The book has many moments which leave you smiling at her wit.

“Em made a full recovery. The growth was large but benign and in order to prevent any recurrence, they took out her ovaries as well. ‘Just call me the Female Eunuch,’ she laughed, as she pulled on her first beedi in three weeks.”

-From Em and the Big Hoom

However, you may also try to find some logic in her gibberish and think that there must be a back story to her depression, much like her son. There has to be some sad story in her past, you’d think. But there is none – much like all mental health patients. Sadly, understanding mental health issues is difficult with it not being in the mainstream. 

You’d think that the story would be about Em and her madness, which it is but more than that – it is about the narrator and his coming of age in a strange sort of way. It feels like he’s letting it all out on paper – a catharsis of sorts. Em is a big part of the book but she doesn’t threaten to overwhelm us. At the end of it, you feel a strange sort of sadness for her – it doesn’t pain you. However, it’s still warm and fuzzy. A contradiction of sorts – can you be happily sad at the end of reading a book? 

Note: If you’d like to read fiction that centre on depression and other mental health disorders, you can check out this list on Huffington, it’s bound to change your perspective.

About the Book

Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, Aleph Book Company, 240 Pages

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