Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

Em and the Big Hoom is new territory for me. This is the first time I am reading literature related to mental illness. This is also why it took me a while to get this post up. Even though I liked the book, I didn’t exactly know what to write about.

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The story is about a Goan Catholic family living in a small tenement in Mumbai. The father Mendes “The Big Hoom” and the mother Imelda “Em” with their two children – a son(the author) and a daughter(Susan).

She was always Em to us. There may have been a time when we called her something ordinary like Mummy or Ma but I don’t remember

Let me clarify why I find “reviewing” this difficult. I was completely surprised with the storytelling – since I knew it dealt with mental illness, I almost expected it to be intense throughout with plenty of self-pity, tears, etc. None of that happens here.

The children keep having long conversations with Em about her life, faith and most importantly about how she and the Big Hoom fell in love. Conversations with Em are unpredictable and sometimes shockingly honest.

Characters are very real – The Big Hoom with his unwavering love and sense of duty, Susan the stoic sufferer and the author who fears about the future and his “genes”.

The most touching moments are not provided by melodrama and theatre but by the saddening honesty. For instance, Em doesn’t bother with the semantics of whether she is schizophrenic, bipolar, depressed – she sees herself as simply “mad” and requests to be institutionalized when she feels things going out of control. The author’s description of watching a loved one suffer through depression is also heart-wrenching.

The book is just over 200 pages and is definitely worth a read – for the perspective of a loving son without all the external noise.

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