Em and the Big Hoom
Hauntingly real, Jerry Pinto’s debut novel, Em and the Big Hoom is about an adolescent boy who wishes to tell the story of his parents. It is also his attempt to piece together an image of his mother when she was ‘whole’ – before ‘someone turned on the tap’ and before she became a patient of a serious neurological illness. For this he has to rely on a system of memories – from love letters and diary excerpts written by his mother to listening to her stories over chai. A novel that had Amitav Ghosh raving about it on his blog before the manuscript was even published, Jerry’s autobiographical narrative (98%, he points out) will leave you stunned and enraptured. platform_ caught up with this effortless raconteur on his visit to the capital.
The title is undeniably arresting. Did you always have this title in mind, or was it jotted down after you had finished writing the piece? I have a superstition, that if you start with the name of the book, you don’t write the book at all. So when I began writing my novel, I had decided that I’m not going to give it a title, but halfway through, when I began telling people about my novel, someone told me that the word Em in Hebrew means mother. I thought that that might work as a title, but then I thought no, this sounds like a film with a serial killer or something… like Dial M or Murder. So Em and The Big Hoom therefore became a big chance, because at some level it also sounds like a children’s book – but then again, I’ve lived with the name Jeronimo – it isn’t the best name for a boy, but I did alright!
You’ve invested five years into writing Em and the Big Hoom. Describe a normal day for you during the last five years? I’ve been writing this novel for 20 years now – for 15 years I wrote the novel with the interference of a job, with the interference of teaching, social service etc. At the age of 40, which is about five years ago, I decided that I have to make one big attempt to get this novel out of the way. So as a 40-year-old, I rendered myself unemployable. I sat down and I decided that I would write 1,000 words a day before I brushed my teeth. So on a good day, I’d brush my teeth by 8am, after getting up at 6am and writing for two hours. But there were days when I brushed my teeth at 4pm as well. This was the structure of my day for three-and-a-half years, and then for six months I cut loose! I watched films, I tried to learn the Waltz and failed miserably. I ignored the novel and did everything else. At the end of those six months, I came back and started reading again. And the next one-and-a-half years, was about editing all that mass of words down to what is the book.
If your mother were to read your book today, what do you imagine her response would be? She would have said, ‘where is the car-chase, have a body lying in the library, some diamonds have to be stolen! – what is this book about? Where is the mazza?’ I’m joking. See, one of the fascinating things about Em as a character, is that she is unpredictable. It’s like asking, what would happen if Em read her own book? Maybe I’ll give it to her in another novel and that will be my next novel.
Have you started writing your next novel yet? Are you working on something? I’m working on a selected prose of Adil Jussawalla, which is beautiful. And then there is a story that I’m toying with about a bizarre, rich Parsi woman, who has a whole bunch of dolls – but as far as writing my next novel goes, I haven’t found anything where I can say that yes, this is something I want my name on. So the next novel is a question mark._
By: Radhika Iyengar