Srinivasa Ramanujan – A Man, Myth and Beyond

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Srinivasa Ramanujan:

Ramanujan’s brief life and death are symbolic of conditions in India. Of our millions how few get any education at all; how many live on the verge of starvation.

– Jawaharlal Nehru in his Discovery of India

Sheer intuitive brilliance coupled to long, hard hours on his slate made up for most of his educational lapse. This ‘poor and solitary Hindu pitting his brains against the accumulated wisdom of Europe’ as Hardy called him, had rediscovered a century of mathematics and made new discoveries that would captivate mathematicians for next century.

– Robert Kanigel in The Man who Knew Infinity : A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

I still say to myself when I am depressed and find myself forced to listen to pompous and tiresome people, ‘Well, I have done one thing you could never have done, and that is to have collaborated with both Littlewood and Ramanujan on something like equal terms’.

– Godfrey Harold Hardy

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Ramanujan is widely rated as the greatest mathematician of the 20th Century. A lot can be said about the work he has done and about his discoveries and his analytical theory of numbers and his works on elliptic functions, continued fractions, and infinite series. However his story is not about rags to riches, but about the poverty, that is being experienced by brilliant minds all around our country.

There is something in his story which we often tend to overlook. From being a person who was unable to buy papers for calculation (because of poverty) to becoming the best mathematician of the 20th century, it is not just because of his skill and mathematical acumen.  He could not even buy enough paper to record the proofs of his results. Once he said to one of his friends, “when food is problem, how can I find money for paper? I may require four reams of paper every month.”  He is a religious man and credited his acumen to his family Goddess Nagamuri. He looked to her for inspiration in his work, and claimed to dream of Nagamuri, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes. He often said, “An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God“. God did help him in the form of people and friends who helped him to overcome his poverty and to focus on his works. People like Seshu Iyer, Ramachandra Rao, Ramaswami Iyer and Narayana Iyer. They all helped him at various junctures in his journey. If not for their help, he would have worked somewhere in Erode or Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. These people might not be remembered as much as Ramanujan is, but nevertheless they played a role in shaping the mathematical world.

There are 100s of extremely talented children in India who could not afford the luxury of going to a good school. Our country is a land of great natural talent, for us science, maths and spirituality are not different entities, when the western world was uncivilized and full of savages we spoke about the origin of the universe. When the western world taught their children that the earth was flat, and the center of universe, In India children were taught how to calculate the distance between Sun, Moon and the Earth. We taught the world trignometry, algebra and geometry. Today the scenario is totally different, over 1000 years of foreign rule and another 60 years of corrupt rule we are reduced to a third world nation where people with over 60 cents a day are not considered poor. Yet more than 60% of our population struggle to make ends meet.

For animals life is all about survival, but for men life begins only when the means of survival is taken care off. When more than 60% of the population is struggling to survive how can they even think about pursing their passion? How can the children study the subjects they love? It is easy to talk about all these, however it takes great effort to make a meaningful change in a poor man’s life. Today is his 124th Birthday, and I am taking a resolution of helping out poor kids to pursue their education. I am going to sponsor a kid every year through Isha Vidhya. Who knows? Our small contribution can create a Ramanujan.