Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto is a writer of poetry, prose, and children’s fiction, as well as a journalist. Em and the Big Hoom--the title refers to the narrator’s nicknames for his parents, and the book has elements of memoir--is his first novel. He is the winner of numerous literary awards, including the 2013 Crossword Book Award and Hindu Literary Award. He lives in Mumbai, India.

From his Q & A with Max Bearak for India Ink:

Q. Your book deals with Em’s, and by extension your mother’s, mental illness, in a time not so long ago when electroconvulsive therapy was still widely used. The erasure of memory and personality that stems from ECT is downright scary, in your book and otherwise. How is its continued use in India justified?

A. At one level, its continued use is very simple. In India, a person with mental illness has no rights at all. That’s a cultural premise of ours. We see mentally ill people as either raging or withdrawn and suicidal. Their families will be heartbroken and passionately looking for a quick fix, and ECT is still offered as that option. In a place that used to subscribe to whippings or exorcisms as treatments for mental illness, ECT is not so much of a stretch. Most want the ill person to fit back into the family structure and not be a trouble at all.

What really is the bright light are small N.G.O.’s like the Banyan and the Umang Foundation, who, since mental illness is such a bleak terrain here, are getting invited to national consultations with the government to create better policy. Really, though, ECT is the mildest and gentlest thing that happens to the mentally ill. Who will take a mad woman’s claim of rape seriously? Who will take an ill child’s use and abuse by ministers seriously?

In India, we have low-hanging fruit of horror. Mentally ill people are easy to pluck. When my mother was taken to Ward 33, each time I would wonder what would actually happen to her. What claims of hers did I give credence to? What could we put down to just one more hallucination of hers, one more fantasy? In dealing with the mentally ill, there is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue