26th April 2010, was the 90th death anniversary of a Tamil man who said “An equation for me has no meaning unless it represents a thought of God”.
Who else, but the Math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan.
Living a short life of just 32 years, he left his mark on the Math map of the world forever.
A friend gave me a book about Ramanujan – “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, written by Robert Kanigel, a book I would heartily recommend. As I read it, it did seem to me that Ramanujan was a Rshi – a seer – who ‘saw’ the Math equations like the ancient Rshis saw the Riks of the Veda. To quote from the book, “It was Goddess Namagiri, he would tell friends, to whom he owed his mathematical gifts. Namagiri would write equations on his tongue. Namagiri would bestow insights in his dreams”. In one of his dreams “he saw a hand write across a screen made red by flowing blood, tracing out elliptic integrals”!
Be that as it may, here was a “special” person – a man who would toil away day and night, writing Math with a chalk on his slate, and rubbing with his elbow. A man who filled pages and pages with equations and stuff that the defied the understanding of even the best of Mathematicians. Yet, here was a man, in the grips of poverty, who had to struggle for basic wants, going from pillar to post, to get some means to enable him to pursue his passion – Math. Yes, there were a few sympathetic patrons, and he did manage to get a job as a clerk in the Madras Port Trust, where he was allowed to pursue his passion by his boss and mentor, Narayana Iyer.
And it was during this period, yet to achieve any real laurel, he wrote to Hardy, the British Mathematician, this famous letter…
“Madras, 16th January, 1913
I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum. I am now 23 years of age. I have had no University education but I have undergone the ordinary school course. After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics. I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a University course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as “startling”…”
The letter continued with some Mathematics to get Hardy interested… And then Ramanujan concluded the letter, saying:
“I would request you to go through the enclosed papers. Being poor, if you are convinced that there is anything of value I would like to have my theorems published. I have not given the actual investigations nor the expressions that I get but I have indicated the lines on which I proceed. Being inexperienced I would very highly value any advice you give me. Requesting to be excused for the trouble I give you.
Want to know more? Read the book.
Signing off this post, with the Vedic Chamakam chant that I associate with Ramanujan –
“Eka cha me tisra scha me pancha cha me sapta cha me, Nava cha ma Ekadasha cha me trayodasha cha me…”