It is after a long time that I have completed a book in one sitting. The last time I achieved this feat was with Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘In other words’, in 2016. The two long years were totally worth the wait.
What a shame, I have not discovered Jerry earlier! I have not even heard or seen this book anywhere, despite all the literary awards it had won. If not for Amazon’s sudden recommendation, I would not have come across this book at all. But, better late than never. I am glad to have found it. This was not just a book, it was an experience which will stay with me forever.
Pinto writes this searing autobiographical tale about the havocs his mother’s illness wreaks in his family, and how they struggle to cope with it. He had carried his torch bravely to shed light on the dark areas of his life, in just 235 pages. There are many stories in this story, revolving around EM, the mother.
The story is about ‘mental illness‘, a topic which is still a taboo and looked down upon by our otherwise modern society. It is something we always hear happening to someone else, but never to us or our loved ones. It is something we believe we know about, but we don’t. We only see the superficiality around mental illness. We never tried peeling off the layers and tried to accept it like any other physical ailment. We stigmatized mental illness with guilt, bad omen, black magic, and other superstitious stuff, so much that people feel humiliated to be associated with it.
The story is about a middle class family living in an 1BHK apartment in Mahim, Bombay, who just wishes to function like a normal family. A family who sit down for chats and copious amount of tea anytime of the day. A family who can count on its fingers the number of happy carefree days they had. This story is about a mother, who would seem cool and modern with her puns, open-minded discussion on sex and dating, if she hadn’t frequently wished to die. Whose bipolar condition makes her so unpredictable that one moment she is smoking beedi and chatting with her family, and the next moment she slits her wrists. A mother who was first diagnosed as nervous breakdown, depression, schizophrenic, mania, and finally bipolar.
This is about a sister, who silently gives all her time, effort, and energy to her family. She just keeps doing what is expected of her, without feeling pity or helpless. This is about a father, who is resilient and strong enough to see the love of his life wither away by a mental illness. A father who re-writes all this plans for a secure future, so that he could afford his wife’s medical treatment for years. A father who explains to his young son that mental illness is just like diabetes. This story is about a grandmother who thinks she could find a way to her daughter’s thisthing (mind).
This story is about a guy who likes stories and probe everyone for details. A guy, who listens to his mother’s stories to find out the first sign of nervous breakdown and manic depression. A guy, who is torn between his love for his mother and frustration of dealing with a mental illness patient day in and day out, and often looks for refuge in poetry sessions, movies, and book readings. A guy, who is open about his mother’s illness and yet clenches his fist when someone asks if his mother is mad. A guy who occasionally thinks if his mother is acting and making everything up just to console himself.
Pinto’s debut is a work of love, patience, hope, helplessness, and immense sufferings. You would see it, despite his non-sentimental way of describing such a stomach-clenching subject. His writing is raw, vulnerable, beautiful, evocative, and haunting- all at the same time. The story flows seamlessly throughout the book. You could connect to the characters from the very first page, and you would fall in love with their honestly and vulnerability.
I found myself pausing in between to contemplate how cruel life can be sometimes! I absolutely loved reading it. It is a rare book, and I urge everyone to read it. It is like a story which will make you believe that love is still out there, just getting tested with uncertainties of life. It will make you believe that ‘a normal family’ is a myth; every family has its own struggle, some are just struggling hard.
I appreciate Pinto’s effort in penning down such a difficult phase of his life.
Next I will read a book compiled and edited by Jerry Pinto, ‘A book of light‘. It was created to illuminate the darkness about mental illness in the middle class society. It has many stories by different people on how it is like to live with someone with mental illness.