Em and The Big Hoom

by Chandra Sundeep
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Cover picture of Em and the big hoom by Jerry Pinto

Set in old Bombay in the late 20th Century, Em and the big Hoom is Jerry Pinto’s grand debut in the literary world. I won’t say this is a story of an ordinary family. It’s much more than that. This is an experience of knowing a family from close quarters. A family that is dealing with serious issues–mental health, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, suicidal tendencies, and caregiving.

The novel is not just about dark themes. It’s also a story of sweet romance and familial love that ties the family together and gives them strength and courage to face all challenges.

The Mendes — Em (Imelda), Big Hoom (Augustine), their daughter, Susan and son (the unnamed narrator) live in a one BHK in Mahim. We get to know the family through the son’s eyes, Em’s letters, anecdotes, recollections, diary entries, and her interview-like conversations with her son. Imelda, the beedi-smoking mom is as badass as one can be. There’s no topic that is taboo for her. Be it her growing years, sex, or pregnancy, she discusses everything with her children. Sadly, she suffers from bipolar disorder which doesn’t let her be a regular parent. Her family adapts to her changing moods and does their best to take care of her and be with her.

This character-driven story is heartbreaking on many levels. We not just witness Em’s sufferings and breakdowns, and her repeated attempts to end her life, but also how it affects her family. Her husband, son, and daughter suffer as much, sometimes even more than she does. As caregivers, every moment of their lives revolves around Em. Light and happy moments are just fleeting memories, as most of their lives are spent worrying.

Pinto’s succinct writing style takes the reader close to the Mendes family. Though mental health and familial support form the core of the story, it is the approach to such serious topics that makes this book stand apart from others. The author has employed dark humour effectively. He doesn’t make light of the seriousness of the issues, rather, makes the reader introspect on much deeper levels.

I love stories that have a satisfying character arc. This is one such story where I could feel every character getting their fair share of space and growing through the pages.

Pinto takes the readers on a journey to an older time in old Bombay (not Mumbai) and one can feel the depth and magic of the years gone by. The Mendes home and Ward 33 (Psychiatric) of Sir JJ Hospital form the main settings.

The story is not written chronologically. Even though it requires a bit of effort to put the pieces together as the narration shifts from one phase to the other, every minute spent reading this book is worth the effort.

It is impossible to not appreciate the beauty of the cover. I loved how artistically it conveys the dark themes the story brings.

Em and the big Hoom is a complex and intricate novel. It made me chuckle and also left me in tears. I highly recommend this gem of a book to one and all.

 

Wordsopedia Rating 4.4/5

A few lines I absolutely loved –

Do what your heart tells you. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. The only things we regret are the things we did not do.

If anyone ever does you a favour, you cannot forget it. You must always credit them, especially in public, especially to those they love and those who love them. You must pay your debts, even those that you can never fully repay. Anything less makes you less.

Mad is an everyday ordinary word. It is compact. It fits into songs. It can become a phrase. But it is different when you have a mad mother. Then the word wakes up from time to time and blinks at you, eyes of fire.

Title: Em and the big Hoom Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Aleph Book Company Publication date: 1 January 2013
Genre: Fiction Format: AudioBook
ISBN: 9789382277316 No. of Pages: 248

Buy your copy here on Amazon

About the author

Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai-based Indian writer of poetry, prose and children’s fiction in English, as well as a journalist. His noted works include, Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (2006) which won the Best Book on Cinema Award at the 54th National Film Awards, Surviving Women (2000) and Asylum and Other Poems (2003). His first novel Em and The Big Hoom was published in 2012.

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2 comments

Matheikal January 15, 2023 - 12:50 pm

I must read this. Yours is the umpteenth good review of it that I’ve read.

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Chandra Sundeep January 16, 2023 - 10:12 am

Please do read this. It’s available for free with KU. I am hopeful you will enjoy spending time with Em and her family :)

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