The Man who knew Infinity – Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar

Another 22-Dec passes by without any pomp and show. This day, 129 years ago, Srinivasa Ramanujan, the mathematical genius from a small hamlet in India, Kumbakonam, was born. Raised in a small house at Sarangapani Sannidhi Street , overlooking the Vishnu temple at Sarangapani, Ramanujan became worlds renowned Mathematical genius and Fellow of the Royal Society from Cambridge, well, with absolutely no mathematical education to his credit. 

He stumbled upon George Carrs “Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics” at school, which created a huge impact and resulted in his entry into the world of mathematics. Ramanujan was exultant after he found a way to write trigonometric functions in a way unrelated to right angled triangles, however when he found that the legendary mathematician Euler had proved this nearly 150 years back, he stashed away all his findings in the roof of his house. He could never reconcile nor accustomed to failure when it came to Mathematics. 

Ramachandra Rao, then collector of Nellore and a mathematician of the highest honour himself, told about Ramanujan

“A short uncouth figure, stout, unshaven, not over clean, with one conspicuous feature-shining eyes- walked in with a frayed notebook under his arm. He was miserably poor. … He opened his book and began to explain some of his discoveries. I saw quite at once that there was something out of the way; but my knowledge did not permit me to judge whether he talked sense or nonsense. … I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted a pittance to live on so that he might pursue his researches”

Ramanujan’s mathematics always led to infinity. His questions at the Indian Mathematical Society journal left many astounded and was unanswered for many months, until he provided the answer himself. 

An ardent devotee of Namakkal goddess, he always related Mathematics to universe, space and god and felt his miracles were all the power of the goddess. At a time when crossing seas was prohibited in the Brahmin culture, he slept at Namakkal temple for three full days seeking an answer and it is said, the goddess appeared in his dream and gave him permission to travel to Cambridge. 

One fine morning, Hardy opened the letter addressed to him, containing the mathematical works by Ramanujan. He kept thinking about the profound depth of mathematics this letter traversed, throughout the afternoon while playing cricket. Along with Littlewood, they inferred that such works can only be the art of a true genius. How true they were. 

Ramanujan was making the traditional Tamilnadu dish, Upma, at his room in Trinity, when his close friend and batch mate at Trinity, PC Mahalanobis, (Who later founded the Indian Statistical Institute), came to his room throwing a very challenging question that came in the morning news paper. Within minutes, Ramanujan not only provided the answer to the question on Bi Variate functions, but came out with a generic equation that will answer any such questions ad infinitum. 

Devout of vegetarian food options, engrossed into mathematics late into the night and no proper sleep, Ramanujan was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. When Hardy came to meet him at the hospital in a cab bearing the number 1729, which according to Hardy was not a great number and felt it as a bad omen, Ramanujan spontaneously replied that its a very good omen and its the smallest number which can be expressed as the cube of two different numbers in two different ways.

Nearing his death, his mother ran to a famous astrologer with Ramanujans horoscope only to find that – This was the horoscope of a person who will live long or become so famous and die young. 

The tussle between Ramanujans wife and mother could be attributed to the sudden and untimlely death of Ramanujan, however with plethora of his works still remaining mysterious to young mathematicians, the legacy of Ramanujan lives on. 


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