Science faction

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on: Jan 11, 2019
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This afternoon, I get dressed and prepare to go out. “It’s five o’clock!” says Bins. “You never go out after three.” “Well,” I say. “I’ve got a hot date. With a wonderful author. At the Oxford Bookstore in Connaught Place.” “Really? A DATE?” asks Bins, sounding interested.

So then I confess that it isn’t a date at all. “I’m going to be in conversation with Vandana Singh,” I explain. “She’s one of those rare authors of science fiction who is also an actual scientist. A physicist. Teaches in the US. And she writes really well.” I tell him he’s welcome to come but of course he immediately digs himself into a pit of excuses. Bins will never go out to a social event unless he’s dragged there by snarling dragons.

So I sail off in my cab, with a friendly driver who will wait for four hours at a fixed rate. En route to Connaught Place, we pass by the Lalit Kala Akademi. I see a couple of monkeys galloping along the boundary wall. “Ooh!” I exclaim, pointing to them. Whereupon my driver tells me that in Vrindavan, where he’s been on duty these past couple of weeks, the monkeys are so fearless that they snatch anything they can, out of the hands of passerby, “...even spectacles”.

This sounds unlikely to me. After all, they’re only interested in food, surely? “No, no,” says the driver. “They snatch the glasses because they like to look through them!” “Hmmm,” I say, feeling sure this is a tall story. “And the other day,” continues the driver, “They even stole a child.” “What, the monkeys?” I ask. “Yes,” says the driver, completely deadpan. “They took away a human baby and were feeding it —” But before this strange tale can be completed, we reach our destination.

The bookstore is teeming with people, half of them in the busy café adjoining the store, the remaining half present for the launch of Vandana’s collection of SF short stories. It’s called Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories , published by Zubaan. Publisher-author Urvashi Butalia is also there, plus the rest of her young team. Vandana and I settle in to our places at 6.30 sharp, to start our conversation. It’s almost the same as chatting to a like-minded friend about books and storytelling except that we have a 30-odd people listening in. I talk about the pleasure I had, being a guest of Vandana’s in her home in Framingham, where she lives and teaches. I go on to describe her considerable gifts as a writer, while also asking questions: about SF, about how authors find stories and about the platform SF provides for communities outside the mainstream.

Before we know it, an hour has passed! Then it’s time for book-signing, miniature samosas, strong sweet tea and goodbyes. When I return home I tell Bins about the excellent conversation. Then I mention the Vrindavan monkeys. “I can’t believe it,” I say. “Why not?” counters Bins, with a philosophical shrug. “Anything’s possible in the multiverse!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column


Published on January 11, 2019

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