In Mint Lounge, an extract from Manil Suri’s new novel ‘The City of Devi’(Bloomsbury India). The is set in a Mumbai on the brink of its end:
“Bhaiyya, listen,” I try once more. “They’re dropping the atom bomb this week. Atom bomb, you understand, not some firecracker that’s demolished the market around you. On Bombay. Mumbai. Whatever you call it, the city’s going to be finished. What would you do even if you did manage to squeeze out the extra money from someone? Take it to heaven with you? And what if nobody else came to your store?—most of the city has fled, you know. Is this what you want to happen to your fruit?” I nudge the tangerine with my foot, and it crumbles into ash.
But the fruitwalla is adamant, he won’t sell for less. “It’s all up to Devi ma’s grace,” he says. “She’s the city’s patron goddess, after all. Now that she’s appeared in our midst, perhaps she’ll save us, who knows? But even if she doesn’t, even if she only lets me hold the money for ten minutes, at least I’ll have it for that much time. At least I’ll die with an offering for her in my hand.”
Suddenly, the futility of what I am trying to do overwhelms me—how ridiculous to put such hopes in a pomegranate! I look at the smoke billowing out of the buildings in the distance and smell the soot that hangs everywhere. The garbage collecting for days, the stench of bodies rotting in the air. Ever since I started my vigil for Karun eighteen days ago, I’ve kept close to my building complex, sheltered from the mayhem. Trying not to obsess over where he might be now, why he left. With the internet dying out, together with phones, radio and television, even electricity, my only news about the outside has been through tidbits from our lone remaining watchman. More:
In The Washington Post, Manil Suri on how math made him the writer he is
It was 1984. I’d been working as a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County for less than a year but already knew I needed something more to round out my life. I’d met mathematicians who ate, slept and breathed theorems and was certain I would never be one of them. So one day I wrote a short story. The title was “Unfulfilled Expectations.” Going through it, you couldn’t help wonder whose expectations remained unfulfilled — except , of course, the reader’s. It was a story only a mathematician would write.
You’d have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers now to read it, but back then the experience was heady, energizing. I agonized about whether to send it to the New Yorker or the Atlantic. (Thankfully, I never submitted it.) The next year, I wrote a second story, and then, a year or two later, another. I made all my characters as abstract as possible. My reasoning was that just as “x” and “y” are symbols that can be assigned any value, characters, too, should be empty outlines, left for a reader to fill in. It’s an indispensable idea in algebra but a terrible one in fiction, as it took me some years to learn.
Manil Suri, 48, is by day a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. By night, he is a novelist, creating narratives set in his native India. From The New York Times:
Q. Have there been many mathematician-novelists?
A. Lewis Carroll. He was sort of a mathematician. There are other people who’ve done something similar. Apostolos Doxiadis wrote “Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture,” and he was a mathematician. There’s someone in Argentina who wrote a short novella on Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. So there’s a sprinkling of them. But it’s not like medicine, where there’s a tradition of literary doctors. Mathematics and literature, they seem divergent fields. In mathematics you have a lot of constraints, whereas in literature, you can make your story come out the way you’d like it to.
Q. Are there areas where math and writing converge?
A. Actually, there are a few. If you’re writing and plotting the path of your characters, you have to consider the different directions they might go. “If I move something there, what will happen with this other thing?” Or, “How will the characters interact, if they do this or that?”
In mathematics, in place of characters, you have variables or unknowns. If I’m trying to plot a theorem, I try to imagine these variables interacting with each other. The boundary of their interaction is the theorem.
Manil Suri, a professor of mathematics, explores the obsession with the male child In The Age of Shiva. Reviewed by Kishwar Desai in The Indian Express.
A skilfully crafted story about love and loss, The Age of Shiva is a substantial saga of family ties and betrayal that keeps you gripped from the first page onwards. Manil Suri, a professor of mathematics, is obviously that rare male author who can construct a perfectly empathetic world of a female protagonist, without tripping up, even once.
This, after all, is not unfamiliar territory: right from superbly written novels such as Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy to Manju Kapur’s Home, we have been introduced to Punjabi families preoccupied with the marriages of their adolescent daughters, and the uncertain results which follow.
Jaipur is set for a literature festival which will see participation by Gore Vidal, Ian McEwan, among others
The pink city of Jaipur is set to host a five-day literature festival from Jan 23, with participation of famous writers including American novelists Gore Vidal and Donna Tartt and Booker Prize winning English novelist Ian McEwan. Continue reading ‘Vidal, McEwan to attend Jaipur Literature Festival’