University of Cambridge

Srinivasa Ramanujan:A Beautiful Mind of India

Srinivasa Ramanujan: A Beautiful Mind of India

Srininvasa Ramanujan Iyengar, an Indian mathematical wizard, occupies a unique position in the history of mathematics. Although he had little formal education, Ramanujan has contributed a lot to the world of mathematics. His life is an inspiration to the students and researchers of India.

Ramanujan was born on December 22, 1887 in and orthodox Brahmin family at Erode, a town in Tamilnadu of South India. His parents are Mr. K. Srinivas Iyengar and Komalatammal. His schooling started in Kumbakonam. He passed his Matriculation from Town High School, Kumbakonam by 1903. During his school days, he impressed every one with his proficiency in mathematics. Out of interest, he studied by himself mathematics books prescribed of higher classes. He studied S.L Loney’s Trigonometry which was then recommended as a textbook in colleges. He had an extraordinary memory. He could able to repeat the values of pi, e and square root of 2 to any number of decimal places. Many of his classmates and students of higher classes used to come to his house to get clarification for their doubts in doing homework.

After schooling he joined First Arts class in The Government Arts College, Kumbakonam, a Cambridge in South India. In 1904, a friend of him lent a book ‘A Synopsis of Elementary Result in Pure and Applied mathematics‘ by George S.Carr. It was then Ramanujan started his sailing in the grand ocean of mathematics. He found himself absorbed in mathematics and no other subject gave him as much thrill as mathematics. Due to his elementary researches with numbers, he neglected the study of other subjects. Consequently, he did not pass in English and hence he was not promoted to higher class. His later attempts too to pass FA did not succeed and this led to the end of his formal education.

In 1909, he married nine-year- old Janaki. His family responsibilities forced him to seek a job. Whichever office he went, he was asked about qualification and experience.  During those black days of his life also, he did not left practicing the mathematics. He was jotting the new results he discovered in notebooks. He even carried those notebooks to impress people to get a job. Those days in, Ramanujan found no one to understand his higher mathematics. He taught tuitions for bread and butter. Finally, with the help of a friend he contacted R. Ramachandra Rao, the Collector of Nellore and the President of newly formed Indian Mathematical Society in Madras. Mr.Rao granted him a scholarship of Rs.25 per month from his personal earnings. Later, through the friends of Rao, Ramanujan got a clerical post in the Madras Port Trust at Rs.75 p.m. He was happy with the job. He could do mathematics in the evenings and share his ideas with his colleagues. By the encouragement of his friends and well-wishers, Ramanujan sent some his works along with personal letters to British Mathematicians. Luckily, G.H.Hardy, a Lecturer in Mathematics and a Fellow of Trinity College, responded positively. Without Hardy, Ramanujan may end his life without recognition.

In 1914, Ramanujan sailed for London. He started his work under the guidance of Hardy. He did not give up his regular religious rituals. He used to cook food on his own. He published 21 papers there, five of which were in collaboration with Hardy. In 1916, Ramanujan awarded the B.A. degree of the Cambridge University for his work in mathematics. Subsequently, at the initiative of Hardy, he was elected a member of various British mathematical societies and a Fellow of the Trinity College. In 1918, the greatest honour embraced him, when he was elected a Fellow of Royal Society of London. In that year, only 15 were elected out of about 100 nominated scientists. He became the second person after the eminent nuclear physicist Niels Bohr to be elected on the first nomination.

Besides his success, his solitude also reaches to a peak. He missed his wife and family very much. This led to the decline in his health. At final stage he strongly wished to go India. In 1919, He reached India. In bed also, he never left his mathematics. He had fellowship money to lead and comfortable life. In fact, he even began to draw plans to spend a portion of his money for needy and bright students. It was a great shock, when he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB of the lung). Over the months, he began to show signs of acute breathing problems and pain in the body. Finally, on April 26, 1920, India’s greatest mathematician of the twentieth century left his breath.

His original Note Books have been edited in a series of five volumes by Bruce C. Berndt (“Ramanujan Note Books”, Springer). Ramanujan’s note books cover the results and theorems about Hyper geometric series, Elliptic functions, Bernoulli’s numbers, Divergent Series, Continued fractions, Elliptic modular equations, Highly Composite numbers, Riemann Zeta functions, Partition of numbers, Mock-theta functions.

We can learn a little bit from Ramanujan’s life. Truly, the life of Ramanujan in the words of C.P. Snow: “is an admirable story and one which showers credit on nearly everyone”. Ramanujan did mathematics not for University degrees, but for his infinite thirst for mathematics. Whatever profession one take up for livelihood, but needs not to sacrifice one’s passion for which one like. Research should be encouraged and carried to make India further better.

References:

1)  “S.Ramanujan: The Mathematical Genius” by Dilip M.Salwi

2)   http://www.imsc.res.in/~rao/ramanujan.html

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