“Imagine you are walking in a pleasant meadow with someone you love, your mother. It is warm, and there’s just enough of a breeze to cool you……
Suddenly, your mother steps into a patch of quicksand. The world continues to be idyllic and inviting for you, but your mother is being sucked into the centre of the earth. She makes it worse by smiling bravely, by telling you to go on, to leave her there, the man with the broken leg on the Arctic expedition who says, ‘Come back for me; it’s my best chance,’ because the lie allows everyone to believe that they are not abandoning him to die.”
This is an excerpt from Jerry Pinto’s poignant novel called “Em and the big Hoom”. The semi-autobiographical novel is about Pinto’s mother who suffers from bipolar disorder. He addresses his mother as “Em” and his quiet monosyllablic father with his favourite monosyllable “Hoom”. Set in a Goan Christian home in Mumbai, the novel describes the daily impact of having a member afflicted with a mental illness on the lives of a middle class family.
The most touching aspects of the book are its honesty and its simplicity. The unpredictability of Em’s mood swings, her whacky utterances and her tendency to wander off from one anecdote to another, her being unconscious of societal mores, her sensitivity when she is “normal” are all described with rare candour. Equally brutal is the writer’s confusion as a child about his mother and his own fears of whether he or his sister too will turn schizophrenic because of their genetics. Yet the book is funny and amusing without resorting to self-pity. Only the underlying thread of sadness at this complex situation lingers long after you have put this book down.
Thank you to Dr Sita Naik for recommending this book to me. I am on to reading Jerry Pinto’s next book called “A Book of Light: When a loved one has a different mind” which is a compilation of several such stories from care givers of patients with psychiatric illnesses.