Manil Suri pulls out a flash drive and proceeds to take you through a power point presentation about his latest novel, The City of Devi, set in a Mumbai threatened by imminent nuclear war.
The PPT features pomegranates, disembodied eyes, a ‘Superdevi’, a bottle of Marmite, and a Henri Rousseau painting! It’s not what you expect a novelist to do but then Suri is also a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland.
“As a mathematician, you want to track all possibilities and find the best one, even the best words,” he says.
His compulsive need to write sections that satisfied him completely meant the “literary novel disguised as a thriller” has taken 12 years to write — a period that isn’t outrageous when you consider he also wedged in his second book.
“I worked on The Age of Siva for seven years. Only 63.4 words that I’d written each day finally showed up on the printed page,” he says. The number happily climbed to 69.6 words for The City of Devi, which, however, presented problems in characterisation. Suri reveals he solved those issues after his famous ‘Helen dance’ in drag at the Brooklyn Book Festival.
“Writers need to push the envelope, we need to break boundaries,” he says, before, rather regretfully, slipping away for the next interview.