& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Em and the Big Hoom - Jerry Pinto

Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto is a story of a family living in a small apartment in Bombay where the family is constantly coping with the mother mental instability.

It’s a story about the mother’s condition, and about the family – comprising a father, a daughter and a son, besides the mother – helping each other and the mother live as normal a life as possible under the circumstances.

To live with a mentally unstable person is a challenge that defies articulation. One dies a million little deaths as the unusual turns into the new normal. Silence is the usually the only response.

The family prefers silence fearing that articulation would shatter the precariously constructed equilibrium.

The world prefers silence as well, fearing that polite inquiries that should be answered with polite inanities, would instead lead to an honest but distressful unburdening of the soul.

Often, the person suffering is the only one who doesn't keep quiet. This is because silence would cause the abnormal to be accepted.

Life goes on, but the pretense extracts a mighty toll. 

Tortured by imagined phantoms lurking everywhere and trying to destroy everyone and everything that is dear to her, the person who is slowly losing all sense of balance suffers the most.

The family tries to adjust to the new reality but fails repeatedly as it can’t decide whether to try to save or ignore the person.

Em, the mother, is like every mother you’d know – often cantankerous and idiosyncratic but always caring and loving. The Big Hoom is the archetypal father – the aloof provider, who draws upon unsuspected internal reserves of strength, to take care of any eventuality.

The delight that the author takes in telling his story makes the novel a fascinating read, but it’s the utter ordinariness of the narration that lifts the novel to an unexpected height and makes it memorable.

Jerry Pinto is a celebrated Indian author and has won many accolades for his non-fiction work. Em and the Big Hoom is his first work of fiction and it has won the 2012 The Hindu Literary Prize.

Here’s an excerpt:

“You can’t reach her,” Dr. Marfatia, who was then her psychiatrist, had said once as Em was led away by hands that were firm and gentle. Or at least hands we hoped were gentle. “How do we know they don’t hurt her?” I had asked. The Big Hoom, and he had said, “Because she never protests when she has to go to Ward 33. That is all we’ll know. We’ll have to live with that much.” And she had gone willingly into the hospital ward one more time, realising us, returning us to ourselves. “Go live.” Did she say this to me when she was led away that time, or am I imagining it?

Except that none of the three she left behind knew how to go and live; we didn't know what to do with the brief freedom because it was a tainted freedom. And each time Em came home, we all hoped, for a little while that the pieces of the jigsaw would fall into place again. Now we could be a textbook illustration: father, mother, sister, brother. Four Mendeses, somewhat love-battered, still standing.”

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