This is yet another IIT novel but, unlike its predecessors, this one is not about campus capers, cross-culture romances or post-graduate suicides. M.N. Krish (an ex-IITian), leads the reader right into the heart of the administrative office of IIT- Madras, before dragging him on a thrilling chase across multiple cities and towns of south India.
Thus, we are introduced to Lakshman Raman, a frazzled professor, has just finished conducting a successful international conference at the Institute when he is ordered to organise another by the powers-that-be. Excepting that this one involves the cringe-inducing business of presenting an honorary doctorate to a Mumbai-based billionaire. To add to Lakshman’s woes, a black buck — a highly protected species on campus — has died and thrown the administrative mechanism into a tizzy.
Meanwhile, Joshua Ezekiel — renowned computer scientist at MIT, Lakshman’s old friend and a guest speaker at the IIT conference — is about to leave for the U.S. when cops come visiting. Joshua learns that his former protégé, Jeffrey Willaims, has been brutally murdered, that there is a threat hanging over his head as well and that there is no way he is going to be allowed to return to Boston. Joshua breaks the news to Lakshman and the two start on a madcap escapade trying to solve the mystery of Jeffery’s death. Assisting them, albeit unknowingly, is a bright young student, Divya. Joshua is convinced that the legacy of traditional mathematical formulas structured in the Sulba Sutras is at the heart of the matter and the search for the missing links take the two friends on a mad scramble from Egmore to Kanchipuram and from Enathur to Kumbakonam, and finally to the modest abode of mathematician Ramanujan, in Sannidi Theru.
There is a quite a lot happening with physics, philosophy, mathematics, mythology and traditional rituals thrown in and a couple of action passages that seem unabashedly inspired by Rajnikanth movies (there are a few allusions to the veteran actor too). The novel could easily have been a case of overkill but a deft handling of the text by the author averts this disaster. The ambience of the campus and a middle-class south Indian home comes through vividly. The harried, booze-loving wife-fearing Lakshman is likeable as is the perky uber-brainy Divya. But the novel undoubtedly belongs to the middle-aged Joshua Ezekiel. His constant inner commentary on India is hugely interesting as he tries to decipher the immortality of the Ambassador car and the mystery of the Indian head shake, which could mean many things or nothing at all.
Krish writes lucidly and simply, his sensibility appears to straddle two diverse cultures — the traditional and the global. But all in all, The Steradian Trail is a racy high-octane novel that needs to be read without too many interruptions.