Em and The Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto

Em and The Big Hoom
I’ve known her. Since the days when I was pudgy child panting from the summertime games, grabbing the large glass of cold crystalline water right off her benevolent hand. I’ve known her through those ritualistic morning temple walks with my grandmother buying radishes from her garden. When she birthed three lovely children gifting them with her naivety of grey irises, I’ve known her. But, she doesn’t know who I am, not anymore. Not even my mother, at times, who when heavily pregnant with me relied on this woman’s help. The peaches and cream complexion mislaid among the heavily sunburnt dermal cells, the hair haphazard in monochromatic shades demarcating the fading cheap black dye. Every alternate hour of the day, tucking her flimsy end of her sari in the folds of the wrinkled waist, she immaculately stands at the corner of the street fervently gesturing the obstinate transparency of the muggy air. Her incessant ramblings never cease to stop as she makes a detour to her house and then back again to the street corner shaking her head in dismay at the unsuccessful symphony of her hands and the invisibility of delusional opaqueness. She has her “good” days and “bad” days and then those daily loquacious outings reprimanding an unknown entity with the bus horn honking behind her. “Poor thing, she’s gone mad!”……….”Tsk, Tsk, what a shame… her brain is devoid of oxygen supply….”……” What can her family do? She’s a bit mental…”

The Indian Mental Health care system has three main terminologies in the layperson’s world, “Alcoholic”, “drug addict” and “mad/mental”. The third one is dismissed as a mere infliction, something that simply exists. The bulimic, anorexics are “mad” for not eating or puking, bi-polarity, schizophrenia is just some “madness”, post-partum…” the mother has gone “mad”…. The psychiatric ward at the J.J. Hospital or the infamous Thane hospital is dreaded more than submitting a blood sample for an HIV+ testing. Disregarding the essential need to categorise the mental illness treatments, majority of patients are shackled under a general psychiatric ward like cattle tied in overcrowding shed alongside alcoholics, drug addicts, for they are all “mad”. The Indian Mental Health Care system is in shambles with inadequate education imparted for the needy.

Mad is an everyday, ordinary word. It is compact. It fits into songs. As the old Hindi film song has it, M-A-D, mad mane paagal. It can become a phrase – ‘Maddaw-what?’ which began life as ‘Are you mad or what?’. It can be everything you choose it to be: a mad whirl, a mad idea, a mad March day, a mad heiress, a mad mad mad mad world, a mad passion, a mad hatter, a mad dog. But it is different when you have a mad mother. Then the word wakes up from time to time and blinks at you, eyes of fire. But only sometimes, for we used the word casually ourselves, children of a mad mother. There is no automatic gift that arises out of such a circumstance. If sensitivity or gentleness came with such a genetic load, there would be no old people in mental homes.

Unlike the vile stench of the Mahim creek spewing endless annoying grimace, I shall desist from the audacious display of my personal exasperation resisting the simmering urge to execute a meticulous anatomical bookish dissection. Abiding the serenity of the humble candlestick lit at the altar every Wednesday Novena at St. Michael Church and keeping my elitist biases at bay, my apprehensions over Pinto’s prose coagulate within the blurry stream of textual insipidness. Gratified as I am of Jerry Pinto for risking the unchartered waters of Indian Fiction dwelling on the neglected facets of mental health and suicide stemming in the narrow urban lanes of Indian diasporas humiliated by the medically privileged units and cementing the festering ignorance between the diversified therapeutic health care systems , nonetheless, somewhere among the crammed wordings of a lacklustre prose the quintessence of Imelda (Em) is misplaced , pick pocketed from a substantial subject matter that could have been safeguarded by a well-crafted assiduous manuscript. The journey of Augustine from Old Goa to a burgeoning Bombay, the vulnerability of a family in dealing with a system well-suited for the moneyed, fraudulent and mentally sound, languidly jogs around hoping to find a decent outlet through the cups of Nescafe and a faint whiff of a beedi.

Love is never enough. Madness is enough. It is complete, sufficient unto itself……… At times, when I was young, I wanted to be inside the dark tower so I could understand what it was like. But I knew, even then, that I did not want to be a permanent resident of the tower. I wanted to visit and even visiting meant nothing because you could always leave. You’re a tourist; she’s a resident..

All is not lost, yet. Only if Pinto had found a better editor, a smooth platform to run his thoughts and not jam-packed like a horde of sardines parallel to one bedroom claustrophobic continuation, this book would have been superior. The incessant human lines at Breach Candy hospital, needles piercing after numerous taps on swollen veins, the phenyl reeking white floors of J.J. Hospital, the calming doses of Lithium Carbonate and the schizophrenic subsistence of Em behind the flaky walls of a small flat repudiate to be empowered like the gallant Marine Drive breeze through this half-baked prose. A bottle of Old Monk and garlic chicken dry, however have a tale of their own. So does the archaic Indian Penal Code and the nauseating attitude of Indians towards patients of cerebral maladies.

2/5**

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