“In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd. It appears in a minute when something disrupts the way in which the world is supposed to work. It can disappear almost as instantaneously.”
Mumbai or Bombay (if I may) has always been an enigma for me, mostly because, growing up, I perceived it through Basu Chatterjee’s lens and later RGV’s. Both painted a very different picture of it, equally intriguing. And then Jerry Pinto’s Em and The Big Hoom slipped into my life, a book I picked up from an airport Crossword only because I loved the colour of its cover and the blurb on it said, “In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay…” I didn’t bother with the rest because, hey, Jerry Pinto was talking about Bombay.
You must be thinking, who picks a book like that? Well, in my defence, the wand chooses the wizard, Mr Potter. It’s not always clear why. So do books. And this book came to me and became something I’m gonna love and cherish forever.
Em and The Big Hoom is a story of a woman named Imelda Mendes, aka Em. She is suffering from what doctors consider nervous disorders such as Manic Depression, Schizophrenia; given the timeline of the story, an exact diagnosis was never made. The narrator is her son, who constantly fears that he might someday go mad too, just like his mother.
Despite the stomach-clenching subject, the novel abstains from melodrama, it allows the readers to see Em as a person underneath the disorders while simultaneously talking about the havoc that mental illness wreaks on a family.
Pinto, through his genius dialogue, shows us an India that many of us haven’t seen (or refuse to see) and created a provocative book about Bombay. To make it simple, imagine if The Bell Jar was written from the point of view of Plath’s teenage son. Am I exaggerating? Could be. But I assure you it will be worth the time and would like to strongly recommend you reap its richness.
“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.”
PS: If you have already read this book and it has resonated with you the same way it did with me, then we have something in common. Perhaps I could use your recommendation for my next read, or you can send this email onward to a friend who might enjoy our recommendations.