Top Stories

Dovan Rai


Ramanujan, divine equations and suicide attempt

Whenever I happen to peep in my sister’s math and physics books, or read any article or news on mathematics and physics geniuses and their work, I miss my old fascination with the subjects, the thrill and beauty of the numbers, figures, theorems and theories.
I feel nostalgia over my forsaken dream to plunge in those marvelous fields.

Yesterday, I was reading about Ramannujan, Srinivas Ramanujan, a self-taught phenomenal mathematics genius, a pure emblem of natural brilliance.

He was born in 1887 to a poor family in India and has been a source of inspiration and self confidence to many aspired Indian Mathematicians. He lived a legendary life and died young in 1920 leaving behind beautiful works in number theory, interesting unproven equations and poignant romantic stories proving that genius can surface and flourish in the most unpromising circumstances.

His interest in mathematics became evident very early. As a child, he was curious about the distance and shape of stars and calculated the length of equator all by himself.

At the age of 15, he borrowed a book of Advanced Mathematics, which was not a very good book but just a catalogue of results without comprehensive proofs but that fully captivated and stimulated him to start his own creative works.

To meet his financial needs, he worked as a clerk in Madras Port Trust. But his salary of Rs. 25 was unable to buy him all the paper needed and therefore he did his equations on discarded port Trust wrapping paper.

Eventually, Ramanujan moved on to the University of Madras with a research studentship. It was here that he began a correspondence with G.H. Hardy at the University of Cambridge that would change his life forever and lead to an extra-ordinary intellectual partnership.
Ramanujan left India and arrived at Trinity college, Cambridge in 1914.
The four years that Ramanujan spent in England were to be his most fruitful.
But he never really liked living in England. He hated the cold damp whether, so different from sunny Madras. Ramanujan’s shivering nights on top of the blankets not knowing that English beds are made with blankets tucked in bed sheet made me think of our timid and undemanding eastern culture.

Despite his discomfort with new place and culture, a mathematician inside him was blossoming and he was producing half a dozen new theorems a day amazing his mentor with his insights.

Unlike the rigorous methodologies of cultivated intellectuals, this self taught genius had intuitive approach to mathematics and his works were original and unconventional.

One favorite story about Ramanujan revolves around a visit that Hardy paid to him in hospital. Hardy and Ramanujan had a habit of discussing the properties of different numbers. On the visit, Hardy commented to Ramanujan that the number of the taxi that he had just arrived in was 1729 — a very uninteresting number. Ramanujan quickly replied that it was in fact a very interesting number as it was the smallest number that could be represented as the sum of two cubes in two ways:
1729 = 10^3 + 9^3
1729 = 12^3 + 1^3

Much of his works were so advance in time that only in recent years is it beginning to be properly understood. His results are helping solve today’s problems in computer science and physics problems that he’d no inking of.

In 1917, he fell ill. Apart from his illness, another matter was tormenting Ramanujan at that time. It had become clear to him that a good deal of work he’d done in India was a rediscovery of what European mathematicians had already established. So many precious years wasted! Very depressed, Ramanujan threw himself in front of a train but luckily the train stopped.

As I read this , I felt my heart aching for the silent sufferings of this genius over his unprivileged fate.

This made me ponder:

How many Ramanujans are still left undiscovered and how many are still doodling on the disposed wrapping paper. And how many are still fumbling on the established basics while their privileged friends are climbing over the ladder.

How many geniuses have to give up their dreams and have to die unknown.
How many heroes have to compromise with their circumstances and have to disappear unsung.

As Yunus said, how many great seeds have to grow as small bonsai inside the small pots.

The things now again revolved around the realms of social science.

I don’t know which is more beautiful – to solve divine puzzles ? or to cure real problems ??

*reference: readers’ digest