‘Mum, what is nature?’ ‘A quantum wave function, sweetie.’


I vaguely remember back in my preteen years asking my mother what nature was, but not her reply. I suspect it was similar to the one she gave when I asked why it’s often said time is money. To that, I distinctly recall her answer: ‘You’ll understand some day.’ That was her way of deferring what would have been a complicated explanation of economics with the expectation that I would one day figure it out myself. Unlike my mother, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself, by Sean Carroll, does offer an answer to an equally complex question, ‘what is nature?’—a satisfyingly simple and concrete one: a quantum wave function. Continue reading


The magic flickers in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’


In the documentary J K Rowling: A Year in the Life, the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter series says something becomes true for her only once she writes it down. Upon reflection, I’ve found that this was also true for me: I always avoided fan-fiction stories based on the second generation of characters because there was no canon that recorded their dimensions from which my imagination could proceed; it felt fraudulent from the first, a misgiving that entirely missed the irony that I write stories based in a universe created by another writer. Continue reading

A love affair with America, threatened but thriving

Me listening to US diplomat Nick von Mertens at the Es’kia Mphahlele Community Library in Pretoria in May 2016

I’ve always wanted to be in the United States—if not live in it, then visit it. But during the rise of Donald Trump and the spate of reported mass shootings and killings of unarmed black men, I’m second-guessing that dream. Continue reading

I am with Orlando


When my mother called me this morning to check up on me, at some point I brought up the news of the mass shooting that took place at a gay Orlando club called Pulse in Florida, US. Expecting her to match the shock in my voice, she instead said the mowing down of almost 50 people was a good thing and that it reduced the number of gay people in the world. In the same breath of repulsion, she mentioned the transgender bathroom controversy that broke a few weeks earlier in the same country. I hung up. Continue reading

The secret to life: curiosity

Childcraft Encyclopaedia set (Source: Tejas Nair via Wikipedia)

One day, I was watching a movie, possibly Batman Begins, which has a scene where a private jet flies across the world, sunlight glinting on its round-edged windows. I thought, ‘How fast would the jet plane have to travel to keep the Sun in the same spot in the sky?’ This is how I discovered the polar night (also called the midnight sun). Continue reading