I loved Jerry Pinto’s debut novel, Em and the Big Hoom and ever since I read it, I’ve wanted to go for one of Jerry’s readings of the book because I really wanted to hear how the story sounded in his voice and with his intonations. I’ve managed to miss every single reading Jerry’s done in Mumbai. Yesterday, I finally bucked the trend and at 7pm, I was at the right place at the right time for a reading of Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto.
For those who haven’t heard Jerry in person, he talks a lot and speaks very, very fast. Also, if there’s a tangent to go off on, Jerry will pounce on it like Tarzan does a vine. Which is why frequently the question (Saloni Meghani, Features Editor of Mumbai Mirror, had the happy task of trying to bring Jerry back to somewhere close to the starting point of his own ramble) receded in the distance as Jerry talked and talked and talked. Then suddenly Jerry would turn to Meghani and ask, “What was the question?”
So what you will see below is very disjointed and it doesn’t seem like all these sentences and ideas could possibly add up, and chances are, they don’t unless you have someone with Jerry’s hyper-energy connecting them.
I might have had a chance getting down most of what Jerry said yesterday if my two pens hadn’t died on me (weep). Instead, I had to rely on my phone, which has — horror of horrors — a touch screen. This meant the following:
– auto correction hell
– Jerry pointing me out as one of today’s “texto ergo sum” generation.
On the plus side, it seems I look young enough to belong to the barely-in-my-20s generation, to Jerry at the very least. Let us leave out of consideration the fact that his power is something like -13 in one eye and -9 in the other.
Anyway, so before I write down what Pinto quotations I managed to transcribe, a few things:
1. Jerry is 46 years old. “I know, I don’t look it.” And yes, Jerry is short for Geronimo. Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to ask him if Freida Pinto’s definition of Pinto is accurate.
2. He read out a passage that you can hear him read on Youtube, in which Em and her son are at a hospital, waiting to get some tests done. If you can hear Jerry read from the book live, I recommend you do. It will probably sound different from how you heard it in your head, but Jerry’s quite fantastic when he’s playing himself.
3. Poet, critic and curator Ranjit Hoskote has a book in which he notes down phrases that are, according to Jerry, “diamonds”. From time to time, Hoskote returns to this book, flips through its pages, and then, from these seemingly-random but beautiful phrases, entire poems spring forth, “like Athena sprouting fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus.”
4. When he was asked about the variety of his writing, Jerry likened him writing to entering a large room that has high ceilings and many, many windows. Each window is a genre. The question is, “Which window am I going to open today?”
5. According to Pinto, the only people who need to know if a book is fiction or non-fiction are librarians, the police and journalists.
6. The word of the moment for Jerry seems to be dutty, i.e. ‘dirty’, sprinkled with local masala and pronounced with colloquial gusto. It was peppered all over his conversation yesterday, often because he was admonishing himself by saying, “You dutty boy” or because he was describing writing — his own, mostly — as dutty.
Here beginneth the spoutings of Jerry Pinto, the author of Mahim.
(On editing the original manuscript and cutting out characters to focus on the four-member Mendes family) I killed them because they were horrible. They were monster children. I would not release them into the world.
You’re killing something and you see a single phrase that you want to rescue. (This was when he told us about Hoskote’s book of phrases and the Athena-like poems he can create from them.) I want that to happen to me. But it never does. I have to lose the whole thing.
Now you’re looking at the mangoes of your writing.
One of the terrors of finishing the book was, what is the connect with anyone else? How does this book break out of its specificity?
If you have a writer in the family, pachhtao. They are looking at you as raw material 40 per cent of the time. … We’re just looking at you and sucking out your experiences and thoughts and everything. The good thing is that you could be immortal.
(On how people never feel as though they’ve been accurately represented in a story.) We carry around an image of ourselves, nicely photoshopped by hope and imagination.
Each word that you pin down to the page limits the next word. The next word that you put down [demands you complete a sentence and that means an idea, which is the beginning of a story that must be carried out till the end]… It’s the smell of death.
I actually have a lot of fun writing. … I enjoy even the sex work writing that I do. [Sex work writing = articles written for the cheque. This was followed by a fabulous impersonation of a disgruntled prostitute-journalist haggling for cheque after having submitted an article.]
Somethings come from the top of the head. Some come from somewhere lower, somewhere reptilian. Then there’s what comes from the intersection of nerve and gut and spine and sinew. That where this book [Em and the Big Hoom] came from.
If you have a novel inside you and you haven’t written it or you’re not writing it, well, too bad. Because there are enough novels in the universe. The only reason to write a book is that you want to write it. There is no imperative to write from the universe. Don’t expect people to draw it out of you.
The act of writing, it’s the act of hoping for a future. All writing is an act of huge optimism and huge faith.
You begin by thinking your interests are wide-ranging, that you’re a polymath, a renaissance man… but what you’re actually interested in is yourself.
If you’re walking down a road and you meet a story that is well-dressed, then you should know it is fiction. Reality is always falling apart. It is messy.
We all walk around with a certain degree of fraudulence. … Which is the authentic Jerry? … Actually, what is real is that which exists in the shifting intersections of all these Jerrys.
[While talking about different identities and then the act of writing.] I know this sounds hopelessly like Kahlil Gibran.
I’m tangential and I go where the story takes me.
Craft is toilet training your idea. … Craft is simply taking your manuscript in hand and saying, ‘We’re going on a long walk together.’