A title that makes it sound like a children’s book, a style of prose which borders on melancholic humor and a topic that few people have been through, fewer understand and only the rare are able to endure.
Em & The Big Hoom is a simple tale on the face of it. A son’s recollections of his mother and father, his family, his upbringing, his nurture and his nature is what forms the surface of this collection of chapters. Easy to read, simple in language, but deep in thought. The surface is clean and beautiful, with a tale that will evoke nostalgia in the reader and keep him going just for the explorations of old Bombay.
Scratch the surface, however, and you have a veritable saga of one little boy’s unrelenting endeavor to truly piece together his mother, a victim of that nigh terrible disease, Depression. Each chapter is an attempt to understand her in totality and a testament to the futility of that deed. Every word, every question and every hypothesis is a trial to the boy and every person mentioned is only a means to understand another dimension of the woman he loves unconditionally and yet has to tolerate very consciously.Em & The Big Hoom can be uplifting and heartbreaking in equal parts, as you witness a pure saga of hope and hopelessness intertwined for eternity.
Depression is never an easy topic to deal with. Still not recognized as a disorder by Indian parents (laziness is all it is and nothing a well-aimed piece of footwear can’t solve), it is rarely understood and cured by the means necessary. Mr. Pinto deals with the topic only in a way someone who has actually dealt with depression can. While the person bearing depression suffers inordinately, fluctuating between darkness and light, the book points out time and time again, never overtly but firmly nevertheless, that the people who love her and care for her and want the best for her suffer just as much. The struggle to understand the person’s mind, ever in flux and always in agony, is useless and the effort to love without question a person you cannot comprehend is immense. It questions your love and it questions your being.
Using Depression as the central core, the book tries to explore theme upon theme, some concerning the ailing mother herself, some concerning the typical Indian father, ever so stoic, seemingly unemotional and always dependable (because no choice truly remains to him…he is the last frontier in this great battle), and always concerning the children, who struggle to deal with the constant mood swings, lack of guidance and are forced to grow up before their time. This is a tale of a typical Indian family with one twist which changes all the dynamics without affecting the core of the Indian family.
Having been through a similar phase once, a very dark phase, this book hit a little too close to heart. Anyone who has been through depression will immediately be able to relate to this book. Perhaps my review, therefore, wasn’t the most objective one. I couldn’t delve into the literary achievements and the flow of the language because I was too swept away by memories and the journey. Mental health is something India has yet to take seriously, and books such as these go a long way in making people aware, through relatable stories and tragedies, how grave it can all be. Ultimately, the flow of the book and the language is nothing special, but it serves the purpose flawlessly. It is not a book that will challenge your literary skills, but maybe challenge your perception of people and what they go through, very often in tortured silence.
Em & The Big Hoom is a lovely book. It takes a serious topic and presents it as a course of life. Those willing to understand and scratch the surface will be rewarded with a world which is horrifying, dark and yet full of love and hope even in the most trying circumstances. From personal experience, it is one of the most realistic portrayals of a Depression you will ever come across. It is not all dark and dreary. There are those beautiful phases of light and happiness which come time and again, but always with a reducing frequency.
This is one of those rare books that you don’t really try to read. You try to experience it. You try to put yourself into the child’s shoes and walk a mile to see where it takes you. If you’re lucky, it’s a book that will bypass your mind and get straight to your heart.
Em & The Big Hoom, if read right, is a book you’ll always cherish.
Review by: Aniruddha Rege