….Em & the Big Hoom….A tale that sinks into the human consciousness…. Ann Mary Biju firstname.lastname@example.org
A tale that is fiercely emotional, thought provoking and a pleasure to be read along with some impeccable moments of laughter while being as deep as it could get ,“Em and the Big Hoom” explores the question of mental health as a spectrum that the human mind constantly tries to make sense of, both as the one facing such a distress or as the other who is subject to be around such a kin. Situated within the context of a lower-middle class family in which the mother of the protagonist is subject to mental trauma, it is around this sole figure that the lives of the others in the family revolve. The story line is quite simple and run through a mentally ill mother, her two children and her husband, the table being told by her son who is unnamed in the novel. If not more than not, this tale complicates the matter of mental health into most imaginable dimensions. The protagonist is faced with intense love, hate and unease for his mother who the children fondly called “Em”. The undisclosed name of the protagonist itself in the tale seems to be alluding to this mix up of emotions that over power him in occasions he confronts with his mother’s lunacies. The bond between mother and the son in this framework of overpowering emotions is quite noteworthy. The son’s desire to imagine himself in a conventional “normal” family also comes from moments he felt distressed about having a mother who was unstable and hence cannot offer experiences from a typical mother-son relationship. Em’s interference with his life could very rarely be pleasant or as he notes could shatter one like glass (Pinto, 62). His hate and desire to be part of a normal family and not one with a mentally ill parent emanates from this unpredictability of his mother or rather her mental condition. Expanding within the domain of parent-child relationship, this narrative of the parents and their children opens up in varied levels between each generation. While there is a relation of conflict with the undercurrents of love between the mother and the son, the relationship between he and his father who the children called the “Big Hoom” as well as between Em and Em’s mother was also noteworthy. The protagonist could more easily love his father than his mother as he felt that his willpower and timely interference was the reason for any normalcy in life which
they could encounter. Even the relationship between Em and her mother seems to be much complicated even though the narrative does not elaborately touch upon this aspect. Anyhow Em’s difficult positions in life having catering to certain familial pressures definitely contributes her mental distress in later years of life. Another primary aspect in the novel is about the lives of caregivers of the menally ill. Being the children and the husband of a mentally distressed women calls for a different course of life for the son, Susan and Augustine. They are unable to function in capacities of their stereotypical roles and their lives call for a different role in each circumstances they encounter with the prime woman in their livee. The path they traverse with Imelda brings them to a varied stance each time they encounter her in her world. Imelda is the commander of their lives and all their life decisions have to cater to her unpredictable conditions. This takes a toll on them socially in addition to their mental distress as well. An intriguing part of the tale is the exploration of mental health as the narrative that weaves the lives of the characters together. This is in specific discussion in the chapter titled “Electro-convulsive throppy” (Pinto,194). This is where the protagonist discovers some disturbing elements about the medical system functioning around treating the mentally ill. Its relatable to the unquestioned modern medical system which grabs on people accused of mental illness even without a scientific diagnosis as portrayed in the malayalam film “Thaniyavarthanam” (1987). The protagonist has no conclusions or definitive points to describe his mother’s mental state but is in a constant state of making meanings or adding consequent layers of meanings as he is faced with his mother’s illness. It also makes the idea of mental health as an abstract concept beyond certainties that other branches of medical science may be able to come up with as diagnosis and treatment. It seemed to be the quest to discover the ultimate truth which would be a project that can be never complete but nevertheless cannot be left unattended. The tale also implicitly point at social exclusion and marginalisation of a family which has a mentally ill member. It points to a time when mental illnesses were viewed as perpetual, incurable and defilement of the immediate social environment the person is situated in. Even though the victimisation aspect of the patient taken ill does not take up a major thrust of the
novel, the very few responses from outsiders to the family enumerate these aspects that clearly marginalised the family as a whole from their surroundings. The children couldn’t really have a life apart from the one with their mother who required care. This was also catering to their lower middle-class standing which couldn’t afford a permanent caregiver from outside. Marginalisation or trauma from having to constantly negotiate with life as a migrant from Rangoon is in fact given as a plausible hint to the building up of Em’s mental instability. This also points to the important dimension to consider the mental aspects of people constantly facing issues negotiating to the environment they least imagined to be in and who are permanently left scarred by such an experience of forced migration. A similar emotional distress was explored in Sonita (2015) where a young teenage girl wished to flee off to U.S. than be in her homeland Afghanistan which would sell her off in marriage. But remorse is an under-current even in such decisions seemingly prospective and one is thrown into an internal conflict. Hence this aspect of Em’s background brought forth in the book alludes to a larger community globally who faces such distress for the most parts of their lives. Thinking from the perspective of social constructionism, Em’s character seems to undergo a process of “interactionism” as visible from her penchant for writing as well as “phenomenologically” immerses herself through her depiction of her own mental state (Conrad, Barkar). The phenomenological meaning is more implicit as the protagonist sometimes considered Em’s actions as a deliberative means to justify her mental illnesses she was seen as associated with. This story featuring the theme of mental health is one that has several undercurrents to its narrative even with its ease of delivery in terms of writing or by featuring a typical family in India which throws itself into an island of seclusion under the context of a mental illness. The sense that one makes of their own mental health, the meaning that is attributed for it from others, what it takes to negotiate life with such a play events in one’s daily life has been beautifully portrayed in this novel. A tale of nuance, exceptional thought process and mastery in capturing minds through simplicity, a must read!
REFERENCES 1.Pinto, Jerry. Em and the Big Hoom
. Penguin, 2015. 2.Malayil, Sibi, director. Thaniyavarthanam
. 1987, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXBT1830lhs. 3.Ghaemmaghami, Rokhsareh, director. Sonita
, 2015. 4.Conrad, Peter, and Kristin K. Barker. “The Social Construction of Illness: Key Insights and Policy Implications.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior
, vol. 51, no. 1_suppl, 2010, doi:10.1177/0022146510383495.