Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Books review: Em and the Big Hoom, and Sepia Leaves

Em and the Big Hoom
Jerry Pinto
Aleph Book Company 2013

I am considering both these together because they deal with the same genre: mental illness - and also because I read them back to back.

Jerry Pinto, who made his mark with Surviving Women presents this tale of his mother who had mental illness.  From the colourful descriptions of her condition, it appears that she suffered from bipolar affective disorder (BPAD) - a kind of mood disorder characterised by mood swings from depression to mania.  It further appears that she had a particular type called rapidly cycling BPAD - mood swinging between the two extremes at a rapid speed, or perhaps a mixed affective state - both depressive and manic phases co-existing in the episode of illness.  

In any case, it is mental illness, and as with all mental illnesses, there are a lot of idiosyncrasies and eccentricities to cope with.  The care-givers - her family, struggle through the various phases of her mood, often at the receiving end of her abrasive behaviour.  Inevitably, the apathy, the casual attitude, and the sheer lack of appropriate services catered to deal with mental illness is also presented, which only goes to show the entire professional services in a poor light.  

Even more inevitably, electro-convulsive therapy, that hugely misunderstood and often misrepresented mode of management is also held up to scrutiny, not least because of the way it was administered in her case - without the knowledge of the family.  It is worth mentioning here that when used in a controlled and monitored environment, under general anaesthesia, with muscle relaxation, and in the ECT suite, it remains the treatment of choice for conditions such as severe depression.

Nevertheless, Pinto's writing style is unusual, but engaging.  He presents the main character as she was, without any explanation as to her unusual behaviour, and without trying to glorify or vilify the travails that he and the other members of the family go through.

Sepia Leaves
Amandeep Sandhu
Rupa Publication 2008

Sepia Leaves by Amandeep Sandhu, once again considers the author's mother's mental illness - only this time it is schizophrenia.  He presents the signs and symptoms of the condition through the descriptions of his mother's emotional upheavals and behaviour.  Also brought out simultaneously is her strained relationship with her husband - the author's father - who, to ensure the upbringing of the author as a child, makes the cardinal error of bringing home a maid servant.  This is when the signs of his mother's illness really burst forth, with her heaping verbal and physical abuses on both her husband as well as the maid.  Suspicions, or paranoid-persecutory delusions, characteristic of schizophrenia are evident in these descriptions, as also odd mannerisms and catatonic postures.  

There is a memorable sequence wherein his father passes away quite unexpectedly, and his mother's reaction, or lack of any substantial reaction, that the novel begins with and recurs throughout the book.  These and other moments are narrated quite simply, unlike Em and the Big Hoom, but like it, without the need for any emotional over-involvement.  But then it is the content which matters here, and it is that you should look for in this work.

Both these works are worth going for if you are interested in mental illness - as a professional, as a carer, or indeed as a service user.  

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