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ROHIT GUPTA
SPACE MONKEY

Rohit Gupta (@fadesingh on Twitter) is a mathematician who thinks the universe is a hologram projected by a microscopic disco ball.

The Universe is stitched together by yarn unseen

n a Bangalore backstreet courtyard the size of a double-bed, I present two new trousers for alteration. "When do you want it?" asks Srinivas, eyeing my fluorescent orange shoelaces. "Right now, if possible – so I can launder them today? It's a small job!" I reply impatiently. He tilts his head on the sewing machine, his slow smile reminiscent of some Sanskrit grammarian. Reloading the spool, he says, "No job is big or small." By the heaviness of his manner, it seemed asking him to sew a button on my trousers was congruent to asking God to insert a new black hole in the Large Magellanic Cloud. I guess they don't call it the "fabric" of spacetime for nothing.

On a table in the verandah, two boxes hold an array of threads on their respective cylindrical mounts. About four hundred shades, to stitch any colour of textile that a client might bring along. The general idea in tailoring (and cosmology) is that you may see the fabric, but not the stitches and the scaffolding that holds the garment together. You may see baby planets whirling around the parent stars, but not the force of gravity.

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The general idea in tailoring (and cosmology) is that you may see the fabric, but not the stitches and the scaffolding that holds the garment together.

A small boy trots out of the inner room. His name is Dheeraj. He is in the second grade and speaks fluent English, unlike his father, who dropped out in the fifth grade. The overcast sky finally starts leaking a drizzle and a teenage boy steps hurriedly down the stairs. Without a ritual, the boy carefully places a banner tarpaulin over the main gate to protect his father's working area from getting wet. Srinivas does not acknowledge this attentive act with any gesture. He is aware of it, but more interested in talking to the stranger.

"Do you work at ISRO then?" he asks me. We are very close to the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

"No, I'm just...I work on my own..." I mutter uncomfortably.

"Oh, you rotate. I can tell, and you don't waste time." He spies me alternating between taking notes, staring at the sky, and answering his numerous questions.

"I take notes beforehand, because I can't think too well in front of a computer."

"Oh yes, computer is like driving eh? Rotation!" Srinivas laughs, mock-steering an invisible car. My eyes drift to the  machinery under the hood of his sewing machine wheels, his unplugged electric motor and foot pedal. "Rotation" seems to be his favorite word, so I nod in agreement.

arried?" he finally asks the dreaded question. "No, I was never married..." I lie, because if I didn't, that would open up a whole new sociological wormhole into this universe, and all I need is my trousers to be a few inches shorter. "Think about your future. It is like pouring water from one glass into another, like this...you see? You see?" he says it with his hands, mostly – as if time flows from the future into the past, from his right hand into his left.

Not every torn fabric can be sewed with a needle and thread, I think to myself. Sometimes the suns explode, and planets divorce their orbits and go astray into distant galaxies. Sometimes the watchmaker is blind, and sparrows sing the rules of chess at the break of dawn. Sometimes a fish-shaped boardgame awaits a player for centuries so long that the tamarind seed-pawns sprout into trees. Sometimes you can't unscramble the faces of a Rubik's cube or unboil an egg.

As I pay him forty rupees and prepare to walk out of his home-shop, the sky collapses into a sudden downpour. I lost my umbrella in a rickshaw some nights ago. He asks me to sit and wait, but quickly the rain retreats, as it rotates with the sun.

I walk into the street outside knowing that tailoring is more about psychoanalysis than we have suspected thus far; and algebraists...well, I think we spend way too much time on our trousers.

 
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