An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.
The pilgrimage from Erode – wet skull,
land of legends and gods, where an enraged
Shiva tore off one of Brahma’s five heads –
and Kumbakonam – where touched
by small pox at the age of two, refusing
to speak till three, losing younger siblings
to disease and death, you left your child-wife
with your mother already struggling to make
ends meet and your father going blind –
your journey from the familiar sounds
of the Cauvery, the temple bells of Namakkal
and fervent prayers to stone deities –
to the hallowed quads and corridors of Trinity,
(when India was British and Victoria still Queen),
the silent mists of Cam, church bells, choir in chapel,
Gothic windows and cloisters of Whewell’s Court –
a place strange, stone cold, distant, indifferent
to everything you lived for, believed in –
is a tale from the ancient Hindu epics
where gods changed the course of human lives.
Did the power of your deity weaken
beyond the seven seas?
In Cambridge your world
was turned upside down, inside out –
faced with prejudice and rejection,
lonely and malnourished, unable to return home,
caught in a war that landed at your doorstep
with its sick and injured. In the middle of all this
you were diagnosed with tuberculosis.
For five years you struggled, sought solace
in the truths of mathematics,
made friends with fractions, integers, algorithms.
Born with a quick mind, your thoughts
travelling with the speed of light,
you assumed your peers would keep up,
not shoot down your flights of intuition,
demand proof of your conclusions,
examine the black box of your equations –
unable to decipher the hieroglyphics
of your imagination, the great Unknown your life
was etched on, art created in a language of symbols –
your inspiration, dancing gods, rejoicing in
spaces infinitesimally large and small.
Even your greatest champion
could not keep pace with your soaring insights –
the things you could see a mystery to others.
With unlimited faith in your gift,
you sacrificed everything – family, home, love, life…
Did you have premonitions of your demise,
a premature death at the age of thirty two –
know there was not a moment to waste
in transcribing the legacy of a lifetime?
Did you know that anything less –
the least bit less confidence in your ability,
dedication, persistence, patience or luck,
would consign you to obscurity?
What were the odds of you not being
remembered as the man who knew infinity?
Shanta Acharya was born and educated in Cuttack (Orissa, India) before studying at Oxford and Harvard. The author of ten books, her New & Selected Poems will be published by HarperCollins, India, in January 2017. Founder of Poetry in the House, Shanta hosted from 1996-2015 a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate, in London. In addition to her philanthropic activities, she served twice on the board of trustees of the Poetry Society in the UK. www.shantaacharya.com