Encounter 1: Walking around my campus one day with a friend, I passed a tiny office labelled “Department of Mathematics”. I wondered aloud what business Mathematics had in the campus of Art&Humanities. A tall wrinkled man came out, gently and quietly. My hopes of him not hearing me were null and void however, as he smiled at me and asked, “Mathematics IS Art. Dont you think?’ I dont know why that had never occurred to me before. Ive heard Math being described as beautiful. It is. Meeting a friend for coffee to brainstorm ideas for a list of book titles we had to pitch, I pulled out my notebook, realising it was the S.O’s instead. It was filled with equations and formulas, as opposed to my scribbles of random poetry, lists of publishing imprints and pages of prose. I saw it then. I could see the art, the straightforwarded-ness of the numbers. It was the only part of my S.O, love him though I might, that I would call neat. That I could call elegant. He didnt know why, but when we went home that night, I asked him to teach me poker. His game, a game that is tribute to Math, to statistics, to everything the field represents. I may still count on my fingers, I may still use a calculator for bills, and Excel for balance sheets. But I can play poker; at least I can pay homage to some of the subject’s elegance.
Encounter 2: I do not like this professor. I am glad he doesnt teach me. But he is important. One of the more important names in literature&film today. My children or grandchildren will show me what theyre reading for high school, for university, and his name will be emblazoned on a lot of their prescribed reading. It will make me cringe, and the only thing I will say (half grudgingly, half awed) is he taught me once in a while. And once, just once, he told me something that (unfortunately) I wont forget.
“Kyra. No nickname. Just Kyra”
“Yes. Ayn Rand. We the Living”
“I know. Beautiful. Russian”
“Yes it is. So. Um. My work on music, did you get a -”
“Must be unhappy”
“Russians. They do unhappiness beautifully”
“Um yes. But Im not Russian. Im Indian. We do noisy beautifully”
“Your name is Russian. If youre here, Im guessing you know your literature. You should know how powerful a name is”
“I love my name. But Im not unhappy”
“Your work is. You may fool people into thinking its not. Pretty words and phrases thrown in here and there. But you write about death and the death of relationships. Death death death”
“You have two options”
“Well, I really just wanted to know if you had a chance to read my – ”
“Embrace it, but expand first. Some of the greatest literature in the world is Russian, is unhappy. It runs shivers down your spine, its so wonderful. Thats option 1.
“And the other?”
“Be more than just a name”