It looked like I would have a quiet weekend alone at home, so I picked off Em and the Big Hoom from the doctor’s ever growing book list. I have mostly stopped reading reviews before I read the book, as a way of maintaining the mystery. I just look at the rating from folks I know to have good taste and try those books. This debut novel by Jerry Pinto seemed short at 200 odd pages and had a colorful cover. I guessed this would be a fun read.
The book is the story of a Roman Catholic family headed by Em (the mom) and the Big Hoom (the dad) narrated by their second son. Most of the book is in the form of conversations and experiences from their lives recollected by the son. Em is a livewire, eccentric, straight-talking and beedi-smoking mother, who is sadly visited by bouts of manic depression. It is her affliction that shades the lively pages (and lives) in this book with a dark and heavy dread. The dialogues crackle with wit whenever Em is involved and its a joy to soak in her character. On the other hand, her days of darkness feel especially unfair for such a charming mother.
The book is loaded with two unforgettable characters, brilliant dialogues, childhood-evoking moments of recollections, life in India in the 1960s, Roman Catholic family culture and the warm glow of seeing one’s parents in love with each other. The opening and closing few chapters are particularly engrossing. These make the pages literally fly. But there is no way getting around quickly through the sad pages of Em’s sickness. I loved Em and the Big Hoom, this is good writing, but only wished things had turned out better for the family.
Schoolchildren can smell a nervous teacher. They see it in her gait as she enters the room, uncertain of her ability to command and instruct. They hear it in her voice as she clears her throat before she begins to speak. They sense it when she looks at the teacher’s table and chair, set on a platform to give her a view of the class, as if she has no right to be there. They watch without remorse or sympathy as she walks the gauntlet and suddenly they are in the grip of a completely new sensation. It is power that they are feeling as they anneal into a single organism: the class. At any moment now, they will cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Every schoolchild has felt that collective rill of joy trickle down his throat as the hierarchy breaks down and revenge may be had.