Tag Archives: Em and the Big Hoom

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto

murder-in-mahim-by-jerry-pinto Title: Murder in Mahim
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755293
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian fiction, Crime fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Before I begin this review let me tell you that this book is very different from ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by the same author. If you are going to pick up ‘Murder in Mahim’ thinking it will be like his earlier novel, then don’t. It is different and refreshingly so. I would also like to add that it moves beyond just being a murder mystery (in the loose sense of the word) and goes to explore other themes, which I thought was very-well managed and achieved.

Being a Bombay (Yes, to me it will always be that) boy, I could identify to most of what is there in the book, in fact, even all of it – from the glitzy and glamorous to the dark underbelly, nothing was new and everything was a reminiscence of a time gone-by. This is precisely what I love about Jerry Pinto’s books – the description, the eye for detail, the nuances of not only the characters, but also the city (which also happened in Em and the Big Hoom in large doses) and that to me is some superlative craft.

I didn’t think much of the story in this one, but the only reason I kept turning the pages is because I cared for some characters and the language which is par excellence. Jerry Pinto’s writing embroils you in it, it makes you think, and before you know it you are also a part of its world.

So what is the plot of this book? A young man is found dead in the toilet of Matunga road station, with his stomach ripped open. Peter D’Souza, a retired journalist becomes a part of this investigation with his friend Inspector Jende and that’s when the story begins. It is also a book about unspoken love, about Peter’s fear that his son might be involved in the killings (yes, there are more than one) and it is about the city that never sleeps – the one that comforts and the one that can also be mercilessly cruel.

This is all I have to say about the plot. Now to the writing – I was taken in like I have mentioned earlier, by the raw energy of the city pulsating throughout the book. The nuances are meticulously and most certainly effortlessly thrown in – from the Barista at Shivaji Park, to the beaches, to the stench of urine and sweat at railway station platforms, and Marine Drive included. Mumbai (I have to call it that now) has come alive in this book.

Jerry’s writing is peppered with humour, sorrow and lots of ironic moments in the book which make you guffaw a lot. There is this straight-forwardness to his prose and yet the characters are more complex than ever. From Peter’s wife Millie who plays a minor role and yet shines with her complexities to Leslie (my personal favourite character) and the various shades there are to him, each character is crafted with a lot of deftness and logic. At one point, I felt as though I was in Bombay of my college years – there is no timeline as such in the book which works very well to its advantage. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is relevant, topical, fast-paced, and a book that will grab you by your throat.

Tharun James Jimani’s Favourite Bombay Books

I love asking authors such questions or wanting them to write about their favourite books so that their readers and fans can read a lot more than just being stuck to the said author’s works. I honestly believe that authors must constantly recommend books that they have enjoyed and loved reading. That way readers get to explore so many books.


Here are Tharun James Jimani’s (author of the newly released Mornings After and Cough Syrup Surrealism, both of which are must reads in my opinion) favourite 5 books on city by the sea and I love how he has put his emotions in words. A little about Mornings After though: It is the kinda book that is perfect for our times, it is about gender roles and how the line is so blurred when it comes to identity and what it means to be urban. I loved every bit of it. A longer review a little later.


Tharun’s 5 favourite Bombay books:

This is kind of an awkward question to answer because it implies some deeper understanding and/or experience of the city because of my having read –and, I suppose, written- stories set in Bombay. And even more difficultly, of being able to rate the Bombay-ishness of said novels by authenticity; to distinguish “first copies” from the real thing. The problem is you and I could spend a hundred years in the same city and experience entirely different Bombays depending on who we are and what we’re drawn to.

Whereas as I’ve grown older –and perhaps because of all the many ways cities have become more and more like each other in the last couple of decades in which I did all my growing up- I find it increasingly difficult to buy into the city-as-character trope, especially in literature. (The visual medium is a different story.) Could some stories have only happened in certain places? Maybe. Could the same story have happened to another group of people in the same city? I’m not so sure. So maybe it’s just the characters after all?

This is also the sentiment I set out to express with Mornings After: “Bombay will hug to her bosom, take to her grave, tales of love and despair, of life and longing, because cities are really just the secrets they keep. And because cities—and Bombay—are not dreams or abstractions or joy or melancholy, the easiest way to put yourself in a city’s shoes may just be to put yourself in the shoes of its residents.”

Either way, a beautifully written vignette of city life is a joy to read, and the books I’ve listed below contain some of my favourite stories set in Bombay.

The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie


This book is especially dear to me as it was the first I’d read anything like it- my first Rushdie. And to make things even more interesting, it was set in two cities – Bombay (which I had never visited at the time) and Cochin, Queen of the Arabian Sea! As a fifteen year old living in Trivandrum, it was almost a privilege to read (parts of) a story set in a city you knew inside out. I’d read The God of Small Things before this, but Roy’s Kerala was one I was familiar with. Rushdie’s Jewish Cochin of generations ago, not so much. Add to the mix the dark, dark genius of Aurora- the Moor’s talented, conflicted mother- and the alternative universe of her art that she prefers to validate her offspring through, and you’ve got one of those “What were you doing when..?” reading experiences few books can boast of. Coming back to Bombay, it’s Rushdie’s descriptions of the Ganesha festival (and Aurora’s annual dance against the Gods as the procession passes by their house) that linger in memory, but it was the interweaving of the very real terror the city was reeling from and the obvious references to Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray that titillated at the time. I’ve always been fond of real life signposting in my own fiction, and looking back it’s not hard to imagine the Moor played his part in shaping that sensibility.

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie


A group of kids born at the stroke of Indian independence or within the next hour, all with different super powers? The narrator as telepathic moderator of their “midnight parliament” to find out what it all means? Rushdie was doing the Wachowskis before the Wachowskis knew it was a thing! Before this descends into total fanboy fare, Midnight’s Children was more accessibly Bombay than The Moor’s Last Sigh for me, perhaps because it was also a story of growing up – both of the narrator and his country. Pop culture references and geographical quirks aside, who hasn’t visited South Bombay and wished for a funtabulous falooda or at least bhel puri served up Bombay style?

Serious Men – Manu Joseph


We need to talk about caste, guys. A theme that could have easily petered out into Good vs. Evil blooms instead into a sublime –if ridiculous- battle of wits in this hilarious Bombay novel that pits an astute Brahman scientist against his Dalit assistant. I read somewhere that the author himself was resident in a poorer part of Mumbai as a young journalist, and it shows in his descriptions of Worli’s chawls. No clichés or poverty porn; just one man’s very understandable itch to get out of his damn cage. Teach a man to fish, right? Well, Manu Joseph gave his Dalit protagonist agency. Score.

Em and the Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto


How I Met Your Mother, but in the form of a series of conversations between a suicidal matriarch and her two kids in the psychiatric ward of a Bombay hospital. In a wonderfully concise, beautifully illustrated novel (no prolonged eight seasons of shoddy story-telling here). Em and the Big Hoom’s courtship is glorious in its details, and Em’s madness is the incessant black drip that holds together and drives this family nuts at the same time. But what stood out for me was the cultural context: the characters’ Goan-Catholic heritage (Maka Paao, as they’re referred to in some parts of Bombay) and the sheer delight in picturing the characters utter the very relatable turns of phrase ( I took to using “this-thing” in conversation for a good couple of months) Pinto puts in their mouths.

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry


Like with Pinto’s novel and its Goan heritage, what screamed out at me from the pages of Family Matters was the cultural setting – Bombay’s Parsi community and their fears, inhibitions and humanity. But equally telling is the novel’s exploration of that most middle class of maladies – the economic and social burden of caring for one’s parents in their old age in a community that puts family above all else. The elderly, Parkinsons-afflicted patriarch flailing about in the tiny flat his daughter shares with her equally well-intentioned husband and kids pictures the claustrophobia of Bombay’s tiny middle class abodes in a way that moves and makes you want to move at the same time.

Thank you Tharun for doing this. I know it must not have been easy for you but thank you so much for this.

An Interview with Jerry Pinto

I read “Em and the Big Hoom” and loved it. Loved it so much that I wanted to know more about the writer, Jerry Pinto. So I decided to conduct an E-Interview and here it is. Thanks a lot Jerry for taking the time out and answering my questions.

1. How much did the book take out of you on an emotional level? It must not have been easy writing it. Isn’t it?

I remember a friend once asking me on a lazy day in a chickoo orchard, “Do you ever worry that with all the writing you do, you might write yourself away?” I did not know how to answer that because at one level, it seemed to suggest tahtt here was a mechanistic equation to the whole process of writing. The writer gives, the reader takes. But it does seem as if we talk about giving and taking. If the book ‘takes it’ out of you, what is ‘it’? And where does it go? How does the self reformulate itself? Even if this is not physical, even if it is not mechanistic, it is a source of worry. Where do the words come from? They well up, I suppose, generated by experience, pushed out by the desire to express something, oneself, another self, whatever. They keep coming or at least they have kept coming so far. If I don’t write for a while, I can feel them rushing out when I start again. This is horrible to say, I feel an atavistic fear about saying it. It’s as if I might magick the wellspring away. So okay, let’s start again.

Every book has a cost. Some of the cost is emotional, some of it is physical, some of it is temporal. Every writer pays a cost and s/he must decide what she wants to do with it. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words. Why? I wonder now. I don’t know. I don’t think when I am writing I know whether it’s going to work or not. I know only that I am doing what I construe as my duty: I am putting the words down so that I will have something to work with. I am putting them down now, today, not tomorrow, not after I’ve had a cup of coffee and chatted to a friend, but now, because that’s who I am and what I do. I work with words. And when they have been written, then the sifting, the sorting, the pruning, the culling.

This much is true for all writers who take their metier seriously. We all do this. Some material is easy, some of it is adamantine. But once you’ve chosen your mountain, once you’ve said to yourself, there’s a temple inside this mountain and I will chip away ‘not-temple’ to release it, you cannot go on complaining about the size of the mountain or the refusal of the rats to leave their homes.

2. Jerry as a writer…

I don’t know. Tukaram has a lovely line in which he says that the candle never sees the light. How can it? ‘Tell me good Brutus, can you see your face?’ as Cassius asks and you know how that ended.

3. After close to 4 non-fiction books, how come the idea and inclination to write fictition?

My name appears on fifteen books. Em and the Big Hoom is the first novel. It was also the first book I ever started writing. I started with the desire to tell a story. I have always enjoyed that. I started also with the terrible feeling that I knew nothing about the world, about the machine called Bombay, about the way people did things. “How does one start writing a book?” I ask in a diary I kept at the age of eighteen. “How does one know if this is a book or a play or a poem or a short story?” That’s juvenile hubris. I should have written, “How does one know if this is a book or a play or a poem or a short story or a nothing?”

So here it is. After 20 years and 26 false starts…no…I think I should call them pit stops. You write, you roar along, it’s working well, the words are whistling in your ears. You wait and read and realise dismally, that you’re channelling a writer you love. You’re the clever schoolboy of your worst nightmares, the ones in which you play yourself and realise you are a grotesque synthesis of everything you ever wished to be, you’re a hand puppet, you’re a prosthetic device. But you salvage a scene here and a line there and with those you start again.

4. Jerry, the Bombay boy…

This is a city of small flats. It is a city of hasty decisions, “unsuitable for song as well as sense” as Nissim Ezekiel put it. It is a city of glitter and gloss and glamour and grazes. It is a city in which I have lived for 45 years without air-conditioning or a car. My home had five people in it. Now it has two. I was crowded then. I am crowded now. Javed Akhtar says somewhere that every house has one room less. Is he right? I don’t know, I’ve never had a room to myself. The city was outside, somewhere else; it was other people’s responsibility. Now it comes in and prowls around the room and peers over my shoulder and asks whether I am human enough to try and change it. Imtiaz Dharker has a great line in which she says she collides with the city every day. She’s right; we all do. We collide with the city and we bruise it infinitesimally and we are left wounded and out of our wounds do we build whatever it is we build: novels, homes for the aged, poems, charities, plays, industries, short stories, housing societies, flash fiction, call centres. This novel, the work on Helen, Leela Naidu’s autobiography that I wrote with her, the anthologies on Mumbai and Goa and love poetry written in English, they’re all ways of dealing with the city and they’re all autobiographical.

5. Your literary influences (if any)…

Of course, there are literary influences. Everyone has literary influences. Even if you don’t write, you have literary influences. When you quote the lines of a film song, you’re revealing a literary influence. When a bureaucrat writes “Kindly expedite” because he has seen it on a letter in a file, he is revealing a literary influence. I can’t enumerate my literary influences because I would have to name every single author, every single book, every magazine article, every facebook posting. They’re all there in my head, all fertiliser for what I harvest.

6. How easy or difficult was it to not make the writing too serious or to induce it with humour, as you have?

I don’t do it that way. I don’t think: Hmm, this is getting too deep, now’s the time for some fun. You write it and then you work it and you know when it works and you know when it doesn’t. For me, I believe it comes from the fact that I have been writing for the last 25 years.

7. The book made me stop and think at so many places, about what we perceive to be the ideal family, till the unexpected hits us out of the blue. Also there were times when certain tracks were left mid-way. Was it intentional in the writing process?

The Talmud says it beautifully: “One does not kill a man; one kills a universe”. And so to write about even one man is to leave some things unsaid, some moments unexplored. Those are the spaces that one leaves for the reader to inhabit.

8. Top 10 all-time favourite books…

I wish I could actually draw up a list but every inclusion will mean hundreds of exclusions. I could do a list of what I think are my top all-time favourite books for the person I am right now but the person I am when I read this will regret some and wonder how I could have neglected others. I cannot do this. I really cannot. I am sorry but I cannot.

You can read my review of “Em and The Big Hoom” here

Here is Jerry Pinto reading from the book: