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Srinivasa Ramanujan – Tale of the great Indian Mathematician

Imagine a little boy aged not more than 11, mastering advanced mathematics of the university level on his own. Unbelievable, right? This boy turned out to be the great Indian Mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan. Known as the ‘Man who knew Infinity’, he is not just the pride of India but also an inspiration for every maths lover worldwide.

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This is a tale of how a young boy born in the Madras Presidency during the British Raj left a mark in the history of Mathematics. We dedicate this article on the occasion of his 131st birthday.

Early Life

Ramanujan was born on 22nd December 1887 to a Tamil Brahmin Family. His father was a clerk and mother, a housewife. He spent most of his childhood under the care of his mother, as his father was mostly busy with work. Initially, Ramanujan hated going to school. He would often avoid attending his classes. Finally, the family had to enlist a local constable to make sure he attended school.

The Beginning

This changed after he was 10 years old, when he first met with his life-long love, ‘Mathematics’. He had mastered advanced mathematics at an early age of 11. At the age of 14, he was discovering sophisticated theorems on his own.

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Srinivasa Ramanujan

At 15, He borrowed a library copy of A Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics, G. S. Carr’s collection of 5,000 theorems. Ramanujan regarded this book as the one that envoked the genius in him.

Srinivasa Ramanujan was already famous as the prodigy. By the age of 16, he was assisting high school and university students along with teachers.

Struggle

He received a scholarship which led him to study in the Government Arts College, Kumbakonam. He was so engrossed in mathematics that he topped the subject and finished the exam in half of the time. But, he failed in all other subjects which resulted in losing the scholarship.

He dropped out from there and enrolled in Pachaiyappa’s College in Madras. Here also, he would easily ace the Mathematics but struggled with other subjects like English, Sanskrit, and Physiology. He failed his Fellow of Arts exam twice, after which he started pursuing Mathematics independently. But, due to lack of money, he would lead a life of extreme poverty and often on the brink of starvation.

The Incredible Mathematician

In 1910, the founder of the Indian Mathematical Society, V. Ramaswamy Aiyer met with 23 years old Srinivasa Ramanujan. The genius showed Professor Aiyer his notes on mathematics in the hopes of getting a job in the revenue department.

“I was struck by the extraordinary mathematical results contained in [the notebooks]. I had no mind to smother his genius by an appointment in the lowest rungs of the revenue department.”

– V. Ramaswamy Aiyer

Professor Aiyer was so impressed and surprised by the findings of Ramanujan that he sent him to his mathematician friends in Madras, with letters of introduction. Here he met other mathematicians who helped him find financial support. With Aiyer’s guide, Ramanujan had his work published in the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society.

Towards Infinity

Srinivasa Ramanujan

The secretary of the Indian Mathematical Society, R. Ramachandra Rao, and other established men tried to present Ramanujan’s research work to the British Mathematicians like M. J. M. Hill, G. H. Hardy, and others. Initially, they thought that Ramanujan was a fraud but after thoroughly going through his work, Hardy said –

Ramanujan was “a mathematician of the highest quality, a man of altogether exceptional originality and power

Hardy along with E. H. Neville, persuaded Ramanujan to come to Cambridge.

Hardy and Ramanujan worked together for 5 years in Cambridge where the latter published 5 of his findings. Even though both were good friends, theirs was a partnership of complete opposites. Hardy was an atheist while Ramanujan was a religious man. Both of them had a very contrasting personality too.

{Replying to G. H. Hardy’s suggestion that the number of a taxi (1729) was ‘dull’, showing off his spontaneous mathematical genius.}

No, it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as a sum of two cubes in two different ways, the two ways being 13 + 123 and 93 + 103.”


― Srinivasa Ramanujan

Honors

Srinivasa Ramanujan
  • Ramanujan was the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • He was awarded the Bachelor of Science degree by research (this degree was later renamed Ph.D.) in March 1916.
  • In 1918, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the second Indian admitted to the Royal Society.
  • In 2011, on the 125th anniversary of his birth, the Indian Government declared that 22 December will be celebrated every year as National Mathematics Day.

Reference

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