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Book: Em and the Big Hoom

Author: Jerry Pinto

Publisher: Aleph

Pages: 235

Price: Rs 495

On page 28 of Jerry Pinto's Em and The Big Hoom, Em, the mother, tells her narrator-son: "We'll never make it to a heartrending story you can read on your summer vacation." I had, in fact, planned to do just that read it sometime mid-June during a vacation. A little put off by the din of hype jacket endorsements by big-ticket writers, obliging media interviews, Pinto's close friends writing fawning reviews I had decided to tackle this novel in quiet, on my own terms. The next morning, plainly curious, perched on the commode, I began sceptically flipping the pages of this unsurprisingly autobiographical first novel. I chuckled when I made it quickly to page 28. When I finished it, I wanted to congratulate and salute Jerry in an email. Instead, I decided to pay my tribute with a review and earn some money for appreciating his book something past master Jerry Pinto would appreciate, a Bombay hack who wrote for money from a very young age when he had to find a means to support his mother's medical expenses.

With not much of a plot to bank on, Pinto takes us into the small world of a small cast of characters the writer-narrator piecing together the stories; his mother, Em/Imelda Mendes, touched by the hand of God, hence mental/mad; the stoic heroic father, Augustine/The Big Hoom, also Angel Ears to Em, for the ears "look like bits of bacon curled up from too much frying"; the narrator's sister, Susan; and finally, the memorably etched Granny/Mae who makes you chuckle each time she lisp-slurs half-swallowed words.

The narrator draws us slowly and lovingly into the lives of Em and Hoom, their office romance, their 12-year-long courtship (in bookshops, because of their "high-ceilinged rooms with slow-turning fans", "for the evening light") and their marriage. All this is done by looking at old letters and scraps of paper that Em has preserved in "cheerful cloth bags" to which the son and the daughter have unrestricted access; and by the son listening to Em recall fragments of her life lying in Ward 33 (Psychiatric) of Sir J.J. Hospital or over endless cups of tea.

... contd.

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