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Going beyond numbers

Author Manil Suri talks to Damini Purkayastha about his stint as an author and a mathematician.

books Updated: Jan 31, 2008 18:55 IST
Damini Purkayastha

There's more to author Manil Suri than meets the eye. He's also a professor of Mathematics at University of Maryland Baltimore County.

But that's just incidental for the writer of the recently released The Age of Shiva who confesses that he carries the Rushdie baggage. We caught up with him during the Jaipur Literature Festival for this tête-à-tête.

Are you witty in classroom too?
Well actually no. But I have been getting better. As I interact with audience, I seem to develop a flair and gradually it's coming in to my classes as well. <b1>

After each class, we have this feedback from students and my feedbacks have been getting better. A student said I was so good that I should be given a raise. I went and showed it to my supervisor, but alas.

A writer and a mathematician - how do you strike a balance between the two?
For the last seven years, I've been doing some soul searching. I was trying to figure out who I am, which world do I belong to, and I think I enjoy writing more than Mathematics.

Is that why you're promising to complete the third part of the trilogy (The Birth of Brahma) in a year?
(Laughs) No not really I am trying to give myself a deadline, discipline it a bit and see how it goes.

Your trilogy plays on the Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva myth. Salman Rushdie had this whole Shiva angle worked out in Midnight's Children. What's your take on it?
I must confess I only read a bit of it, but I know what you mean. I am always conscious of Rushdie because he's done it all. I wanted to write about Tetra Pods and I googled the word and the first thing I saw was an excerpt from Midnight's Children.

I wanted to do something on monkeys and I discovered that he's covered monkeys too! Rushdie plays around with myths a lot.

Your take is largely different.
Yes, I don't play around with them. The myth stays the same but I put human characters in that situation and see how they would react. Gods are idealised and have perfect reactions, I like to see average human reactions.

Are we going to see an autobiographical campus story soon?
Not really. There are so many of those floating around and I am sure if you open drawers at my university you will find several unpublished manuscripts along those lines.

I have been toying with the idea of a group of mathematicians at a seminar. My parents came from Rawalpindi and that is another story that is hugely interesting, so I might do non-fiction one day.