“Mathemagician” is an account of a young math genius set in Babylon
Gowri Ramnarayan’s ‘Mathemagician’, staged at the Sivagami Pethachi auditorium over the last weekend, combined hubris and irony neatly, to show the rise and decline of young Nikor, the man with a head for Math and a heart full of unbridled emotion. The irony was initially lost on the audience, who clearly were looking for the lighter side of Nikor. After a couple of uncomfortable laughs, they, however, settled in to watch the doomed mathematician’s tale unfold and clearly, were moved by the sad story.
Nikor of Babylon developed a head for figures early on in life but was born before his time, in an age where noblemen did not seek learning. His disgusted father sells him into slavery, as apprentice to Plautus, the Chief Economist of Babylon, setting the pattern for a life of servitude to the king. The queen, actually, since Nikor, now a castrated slave and therefore no threat, goes along to her chambers to impart the occasional lesson in Math and astronomy. With his inherent brilliance in arithmetic combined with some savvy statecraft, Nikor eventually becomes the State’s Chief Mathematician, Accountant General and Keeper of the Seals, a man of formidable power and unimaginable wealth. But is Nikor happy?
Nikor has never forgotten his childhood sweetheart Salla, and of course, as must happen to heroes such as Nikor, he meets Salla again in Babylon, this time as the abused and unhappy wife of a prince.
So Nikor loses Salla again, and what’s more, watches Babylon prepare for troubling times, as Persia lays siege to the fabled kingdom. And then, in an act that is to have monumental consequences, Nikor betrays his masters and gives the Persians a way in. What follows is actually, pure Greek tragedy. Nemesis knocks next, and bereft of anything worthwhile in his young life, Nikor decides to end it all.
The play, a multi-genre production, interweaving music, poetry and visuals was written, designed, directed and given music by Gowri Ramnarayan and she did a deft job of all. While the script held no real surprises, it unspooled in a gentle, moving manner; Nikor was played in a series of monologues by V. Balakrishnan and he, too, did a good job of it. The sets were a complement to the mood of the play and the music, an injection of Indian classical, was seamless and did not jar in a setting so far from the Euphrates River.SHEILA KUMAR