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E: Em and The Big Hoom (a review)

April 6, 2017

This is a book I finished reading last week. I’ve always been reluctant to write reviews of books or movies for some reason, maybe the fear that I may not do enough justice to the book. But here’s an attempt. 

The book is about how the family of Imelda (Em) deals with her manic depression and is both heartwarming and funny. The story of her courtship and marriage to the Big Hoom reels you in, as do the details of their life in that tiny apartment in Bombay. 

There are some hilarious bits of dialogue, centred around the seemingly eccentric but flamboyant Em which gives some wonderful insight into her character and makes her all the more endearing. And into the culture of the Goan Catholic (?) families of the period. 

I even paused after some bits of dialogue to imagine a raspy voice saying the lines out loud. Sample this –

‘Ambivalence? I love it. I was ambivalent. I think I am ambivalent right now. I think I am an ambivalence, toon taan toon taan toon taan, with a blue light on my forehead.’

Or,

‘Gone to sleep or what? Three hundred now and without pills. Open mouth. Aaahn. Pull this lid, pull that lid, cough for me, ptack-ptack on the chest and write write write. Finished. Three hundred rupees in the pocket and “Send her to the clinic next time” he got the bupka to tell me.’ 

Made me laugh my head off. And there’s a beautiful line from the book that has stayed with me – In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd. How true, of virtually every city in India. 

How her children, the son in particular, deal with her illness is dealt with quite beautifully and honestly. It made me wonder more than once if the book is based on Pinto’s life (it is). 

My only complaint is that the ending seemed to come too suddenly, and maybe it seems a bit disjointed in places. But I think this is a book I’ll revisit in bits, just for the humour and the beautiful writing. 

I’m loving the new brood of Indian authors I’m discovering. I also recently loved Manu Joseph’ ‘The Illicit happiness of other people’. I’d love to read more by Jerry Pinto, so I’ll probably pick another soon. Also, I recall seeing some kidlit by Pinto when I was at the Lightroom bookstore in Bangalore the last time, maybe I’ll check those out too. 

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