Ruby Pi and the Math Girls, Excerpt by Tom Durwood

A collection of adventure stories featuring young heroines at turning points in history who use math to solve colossal problems. Smart girls take on buried secrets, villains, tanks, mysteries, codes, and economics to save their people “Stories, mystery and math go well together… a welcome addition.”
(~ Jeannine Atkins, author of “Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math”)

Excerpt from Volumes of a Kiln


From the eastern sea to the western sea, the area in between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas, is what wise men call the land of the Aryans …beyond it is the country of the barbarians. – Manusmriti, Second Century B.C. Book of Law

Now Third Aunt was coughing blood.
The healers, despite all their ministrations, gave up.                                          
“A better world awaits her,” said Chikistak, one of the healers.
“And soon.”
Third Aunt squeezed Jayani’s hand with her own.
She eventually stopped coughing.
The old woman slept, but fitfully. Her breath was labored. Her bent spine kept her in a curved position. 
“What if I can get her to the clinic in Pataliputra,” asked Jayani. “The Vedic doctors …”
“Yes. They might fix this. But it costs money,” said Chikistak.
“Do you have it?”
“How much is it?” asked Jayani.
He told her.
The girl shook her head. The blood had drained from her face. 
The coughing started up again.
It was getting worse.
“I am strong, sister,” said Ganesh, when the healers had gone. “I can work harder! In the next rotation, I might be a wagon-boy.”  
“You’re eight years old,” Jayani reminded her little brother. 
Later, deep in the night, hidden among the murmurs of the night prayers and rustlings among the camels, the boy could see the silhouette of his sister out on the sands, alone, and he could hear the forlorn sound of her crying.


The power of pure thought has shaped our world for over two millenia. — Jim Al-Kahlili

“You are Jayani,” said the tall traveler the next morning.  “The Oven-Master’s apprentice.”

The Arab cast a shadow as he stood in the courtyard of the kilns compound. He was cloaked in black. A servant knelt behind him.  His speaking voice was rich with influences, syllables and vowels and cadences from other lands. 

“Aye, yaatree,” answered the oasis girl, turning to face the visitor. She might have used the term musafirin, but she was not yet sure about him.

“I am Jayani.”

This fateful exchange took place in the age of the Mughal princes, self-involved Mirza Abu Bakr and the ever-incompetent Rafi-ush-Shan, at an oasis named Ahichhatra, which lay some small distance from the northern highway known as Uttarapatha, in the Valley of the Gangee.

The watering-hole community nestled in the dusty lower hills of the Gongotri was a beehive of activities.     

Jayani stood in front of the second cylindrical oven, holding an oversized kiln paddle, in her gloved hands. 

As slight a figure as the stranger was imposing, the girl Jayani, only fourteen, stood straight and calm, even when the Arab stepped closer.
“I am Salim Abdallah al-Ayyashi.”
He signaled to his servant.
“I come lately from the Christian lands. Bound for Changsha.”
The girl squinted in the morning sunlight.
“Won’t you bake this for me,” said the traveler evenly.
The Arab’s servant unwrapped a large platter and handed it to Jayani.
“It would be a great favor.”

Jayani, hard-working apprentice of the communal ovens, removed the big leather gloves from her hands. She stuck them in the pocket of the blue apron she wore.

It was a Govindan upahaar, a ceramic platter, one of a kind.

Its ivory surface showed the outlines of carvings. Looking closely, you could see circular patterns figures, the delicate   articulation of some vision.     Those hidden painted patterns that would emerge, turning into vibrant colors if the platter was properly glazed, at the correct heat, for the correct length of time.

“This is the work of Nabil Matar,” said Jayani.
The Arab nodded. “A heavenly scene. A gift for Yikuang, the Manchu prince.  
His wife has given birth to a son.”
Jayani handed it back.
“It is a most elegant thing,” said the girl. “Rare. And I will not be the clod who ruins it.”
“Ibn Batuta recommends you,” said the Arab. “He speaks of you as an artist.”
“The Moroccan is too generous with his praise.”
Zrimat, Ovens-Master, hovered nearby, sensing an exchange of coins.
“Of course,” Salim Abdallah al-Ayyashi challenged Jayani.“If you think you are incapable of such a task …” 

Jayani turned to face the bank of ovens nestled into the rock.  She saw the impossible jumble of generations of clever bakers and smelters applying all manners of flame and heat to all manners of substances. Here stood Venetian vertical stoves, four active half-cylinder ovens which dominated the commerce, with wooden pallets hung alongside. And there were deck ovens as well, and behind them, squat, square Vulcans and clay chamber stoves, clusters of dwarf cob (mud, that is) furnaces. Along the sides of the bake-shop lay open char pits lined with coals, half-buried wood-fired roasters, columns of pottery kilns. There were dusty banks of fourneau, or chimneyed bread ovens. Two kang platform stoves towered over the left batteries.  There were kilns for pottery, some abandoned, and blazing furnaces for metal. She saw cauldron-hung fire-pits for stews and open roasters for poultry. Spits for large fish. Earthen kilns for dye and a section of domed beehive ovens, or skep, such as the long-dead butchers and bakers and culinaries used when they prepared the wedding feasts of Qasim Abdallah.

“Come back after lunch,” Jayani told Salim Abdallah al-Ayyashi.

* * *

Every particle, every brushstroke, every atom of the ceramic platter’s latent beauty had come to life. 

“This is … fine work. Very fine. It is beyond my hopes,” breathed Salim Abdallah al-Ayyashi.           

The purples and ruby reds and midnight-blue hues on the plate had emerged in lacquered glory, and the more somber ochres and ambers as well. The Arab traveler swore that Matar himself would blush to see it. One could now see the carving’s influences – Persian, Indian, even European. Winged figures carrying birds which had been invisible before were now prominent, and the symbols would please and mystify those of the Middle Kingdoms for years to come.  One of the shepherds invented a song about the platter, its fine glaze, and the iron-rich clays, and the brave young oven-keep who had brought the pigments to life.

A crowd gathered spontaneously.
He held the piece aloft.
“All the Mughal lands will hear of this!”
The Ovens-Master, Zrimat, inserted himself.  
“It took my assistant three hours’ labor,” the Ovens-Master reminded the Arab. “Plus customized details … ”

Salim Abdallah al-Ayyashi smiled and paid with a flourish that implied it would have been cheap at ten times the price.

Zrimat rolled the coins along his fingers.  He counted them twice. He placed the bag of coins in his jacket pocket. None did he pass on to his apprentice, Jayani. 

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Meet Tom Durwood

Tom Durwoodis a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

Two of Tom’s books, “Kid Lit” and “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter,” were selected “Best of the New” by Julie Sara Porter’s Bookworm  Book Alert

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