In her career as a writer, Archana has spun some terrific tales across genres. Whether it was her short stories, her Novel ‘Birds of Prey’ or the e-book ‘Tit for Tat’, they have all captivated her readers and brought in much-deserved accolades.
In ‘The History of Mathematics’, Archana touches upon known and hitherto unknown legends, mathematical concepts, mathematicians and serves up a delectable fare.
There are 26 neatly arranged tales (nothing to do with the letters of the English Alphabet) with apt titles, captions, aided by drawings, equations, expressions and pithy quotes by the famous.
Archana Sarat speaks to us –
1. Congratulations Archana! Your book is just out and there’s a great buzz about the response to it. How do you feel?
Thank you, Anupama. Though I feel thankful that my efforts have been acknowledged and the book is loved by the readers, the entire process of writing and publishing is a surreal experience. The efforts of many people go into shaping the book: my editor, Percy Wadiwala, my publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee, my illustrator, Rayee Terdalkar and so many others. It is the Almighty’s blessing that I have all these supportive folks in my life. So, I cannot take credit for everything.
2. You have dabbled across genres. What made you take up writing on this particular subject and choosing it as a conduit for your creative expression?
I love to write very-short short stories, popularly called flash fiction. I had been toying with the idea of writing a collection of flash fiction stories on a single topic. I have always loved mathematics and I enjoy reading books on the topic. When I chanced upon a book about the evolution of mathematics, the first few stories from ‘The History of Mathematics’ gushed into my head with hardly any effort.
3. How did you approach the writing of your novel? Was there anything particularly challenging when you took up writing on this subject?
Initially, I had just wanted to write stories that show us how math evolved. As my research intensified, I understood that mathematics, as we know it today, is the result of India’s invaluable contributions to this field. This was when I decided that at least half of the book must include India’s contribution to mathematics.
This decision became my biggest challenge. This was because there was hardly any information available about renowned Indian mathematicians like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara I, etc. These men were extremely humble, and they wanted their work to speak for itself and did not believe in attaching their names to their contributions. Did you know that we have no historical data about Aryabhata who wrote Aryabhatiya when he was just twenty-three years of age? Except for that one piece of information, we know nothing else about him though he is our country’s leading astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. So, research became a nightmare while I worked on this book.
4. The scope of the subject chosen is vast. How did you decide, how much to tackle, when and where to leave?
I’ve hardly covered a drop in the ocean as far as the history of mathematics is concerned. In this book, I have covered the time period from early ages till the eleventh century CE. I haven’t spoken about the contributions of China, Egypt, and the Arabs. I’ve also not written about the Kerala mathematicians. I will cover all this in a sequel to this book.
5. Why should anyone read your book? Who is your target audience? Can you sum up the journey of your book in two sentences?
We are at a difficult time in history when half the population is disillusioned with our country and the other half is taking pride in all the wrong things. I think reading this book can help clear our perspectives and allow us to see what a great nation we are.
The target audience for this book would be anybody from 8 to 88 years of age. Both math enthusiasts and history enthusiasts would enjoy the book.
To sum up the journey of my book, I must say that it was a labour of love. Nothing else but the unfettered passion to the idea kept me slogging through a dozen books on this topic.
6. Why do you think some children fear maths? Any tips to them to overcome their fear? Does this book help in any way overcoming those worry pangs?
Not just children, all of us fear things that we cannot understand be it cooking, ghosts or rappelling. The only way to overcome this fear is to make efforts to understand and appreciate the thing that scares us. This is where teachers, parents, and books, like this one, can help. When children read that the knowledge of mathematics is inborn, it dispels their fear of the topic. Also, the book contains a few tips and tricks from the Egyptians that make certain mathematical calculations easy.
7. Some say we are dumbing down as we are becoming tech-dependent by the hour. Would a peek into the history of mathematics make us more analytical?
Becoming tech-dependent may not be a bad thing. When books became popular for the first time in history, parents chided their children for reading. They wanted them to go out and play. Parents did not allow the kids to read while eating. Now, I’m sure all parents would be happy to allow their child to read rather than sit glued to the computer or mobile screen. So, these things keep changing with the times.
However, even in these times, I strongly feel that being analytical may be good in certain things like reading and studying. The mere act of scratching out numbers on a paper using a pencil feels therapeutic to me. This is the reason why I have included many stories that talk about clay tablets, maintaining accounts using tally sticks, counting using beads, etc.
8. What next? What defines you? Do you have anything specific to share with your readers that you learnt while writing this book?
My hands are itching to write a thriller next. It is my most favourite genre. It has been a long time since Birds of Prey, my debut psychological crime thriller.
Two things I learnt while writing my recent book are tolerance and perseverance. All new ideas face opposition. People cannot tolerate change and they find it easier to remove the person suggesting the change rather than remove their old habits. This is where perseverance comes into play. Our yesteryear mathematicians stuck on steadfastly and stood for their views. If you don’t stand up for something, you will fall for anything!
9. What do you think is the future of reading/writing in India?
A research study shows that we are reading much more than ever before in history, though this is predominantly in the form of Facebook posts, WhatsApp messages, Quora answers and Scroll articles. The future of reading and writing is bright in India provided the content is engaging and is presented in a pleasing manner. Shoddy covers, pathetic editing and meandering stories will not work anymore.
10. Any advice for other writers and budding writers?
Read in the genre that you write.
Read in other genres too.
Read all others too.
For every 1000 words that you write, read 10,000.