Author: Jerry Pinto
In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, through the last decades of the twentieth century, lived four love-battered Mendeses: mother, father, son and daughter. Between Em, the mother, driven frequently to hospital after her failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the father, trying to hold things together as best he could, they tried to be a family.
The first time I saw this book, I was at a bookstore with a strict budget and an even longer list of books that I just needed to buy. This book called to me, its dark purple pages and it’s different cover. As I picked this book, instantly I knew this was the one book that I needed to read, not only because of the cover, but the words of authors like Salman Rushdie with backed it up.
I dived into this story, not knowing anything. The story is about, quite literally, em and the big hoom, the narrator’s parents. It was refreshing to read a love story that is discovered by the couple’s son through the various letters that he discovers that his patents had written to each other. This is the way he discovers that his parents are more than just his parents, they are people with identities quite different from what he now takes for granted. He discovers that his parents had a life that did not include him, and was in fact quite beautiful.
The characterization and the narration were such that I could actually visualize the family having tea in their balcony when em was in one of her “good” moods. Personally, em is one character that is quite novel, and yet, so raw that I could instantly feel a connect with her. The life that she wanted to live was quite different than the life she had to live. She was a working woman in the last decade of the twentieth century, the bread winner of her family, and at one point of time, earning more than her beau. Life was perfect. But the society did not think so. The society thought that a woman would not be complete unless she did not get married and had kids. Em, being a ‘good daughter’ got married and had kids. But the cost that she paid, the cost of her independence, of her life, was something that she was quite vocal about.
We see many books, movies, TV shows and in fact, all over social media, mothers are these “sacred” creatures, revered to the extent that they loose their individuality and are nothing other than “mother”, except maybe a wife and a daughter in law. This book takes you inside the mind of a mother, who did not really want it all and that too through the mind of her son!
The book also does excellent justice to the state of mental health in India, at the time. The treatment and the general attitude of the people towards those who are “mad”. The impact of living with a person who is termed such, the impact of being the children and the husband of a mad woman, all are perfectly described.
All in all, a must read. I rate this book a perfect 4 out of 4.