Sharanya told me to put off writing this particular tribute. The person, a Bombay-based journalist-poet-novelist-a-whole-bunch-of-other-numerous-things, is way too close to home, she said, and too much of a big fish in the city’s journalist-literary circles. I agreed with her. It’s one thing to sing the praises of Vikram Seth and quite another to go all fan-girl about someone who knows at least two of your former editors. The risk of him reading this and booming out “You’re a terrible writer and you’ve got it all wrong” is too great and too knee-knockingly scary. But two weeks ago I finished reading Em and the Big Hoom, the most recent feather in Jerry Pinto’s already quite feathered cap. I have to do this. Now, as they say, is the hour.
Jerry Pinto, the journalist is faultless. His writing is crisp but detailed; he effortlessly works in mammoth background into his stories and as for his ability to get his point on paper, well, colour me awe-struck. He’s opinionated, well-read and tremendously prolific (The April 13th issue of Time Out tells me he the free press journal started calling itself the free press jerry). Even when he goes absolutely ballistic on national TV, you sense that he knows what’s what and being nice be damned. My mother has a word for the kind of person that Jerry Pinto comes across as. It’s Tana-tan. Rough translation: smart and on-the-ball. And he is that, as far as I can tell from his bylines, his television appearances and his dry but funny tweets (“Narendra Modi is on the cover of Time magazine. He means business but can he lead India, the dying magazine asks. In a word: No.”)
On to Jerry Pinto as a poet. I don’t read poetry for pleasure but I rate a good poem as one that isn’t a linguistically soppy mess that makes you want to slap yourself. I’ll read and like a poem if it’s universal without being banal and painstakingly crafted in terms of language. Free style is all very well but only if the thought and imagery behind it is superlative. Rhythm is important to me too. Think Emily Dickinson. Think E.E Cummings. Think Jerry Pinto.
Em and the Big Hoom. Ah, it was all very Charlie’s golden ticket, for me. The novel, published by fledgling publishing house Aleph, launched in the middle of April which means I couldn’t buy till my salary came in at the beginning of May. For a week, I read no reviews, looked away quickly when the name of the novel came up on Twitter and just waited. As soon as I could, I went and bought the book. It cost Rs 499 and I would have gladly paid double, even if it meant cutting into my food and alcohol budget.
There’s been enough critical appreciation about Em and the Big Hoom, so no, I will not be the 800 millionth person to say how tragic and funny every page is. I will say this. He got it right on three counts. One, the novels narrative tone is lighter than air despite the heavy theme, second, the characters (and I’m not just talking about Em here) are well drawn out and believable, and last but very important: the Goan Roman- Catholic idiom is spot on. (““Muttering Matilda, that Terry put name for me. I’m saying, “Storming Heaven on your behalf on’y””) I’ve always said, if characters don’t speak like they would in real life then I can’t be bothered wasting my time with them.
I wonder if there are other young, inexperienced, invisible writers like myself, for whom, great bylines work as silent mentors. If it were up to me, I’d follow the man around with a notebook taking notes on what to do and what not to do. But that would get me arrested. Instead, at work and in my personal writing, at the end of every other sentence, I find myself wondering, how would Jerry Pinto write this?