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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The tale of genius – Srinivas Ramanujan ‘the man who knew infinity”

On 26th Dec 2011 – Chennai turned chaotic – traffic was thrown out of gear everywhere due to the PM’s visit.  Much was expected from him as solutions to the ‘Koodankulam issue’ and the ‘Mullaiperiyar issue’ that is threatening the relations between the two States.  Nothing happened other than the traffic disruptions perhaps….

December 22, 2011 marked the 125th birth anniversary of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan.  At Madras University, our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh inaugurated the yearlong celebrations of  125th birth anniversary of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.  He declared December 22, Ramanujan's birthday, as  the National Mathematics Day and 2012 the National Mathematics Year.  Dr. Singh also released a commemorative stamp on the occasion.   The Prime Minister reminded parents and students that mathematics was “the mother science,” which was also influencing the study of social sciences in a big way.  He favoured popularising mathematics as an academic discipline, saying the general perception that the subject does not offer attractive career possibilities is no more valid as new opportunities are now available to mathematicians.   He regretted that the  country did not have enough competent mathematicians.

The function at Madras University

It does not require any poll result to show that most school students consider ‘Mathematics’ as the most difficult.  The meaning of ‘Mathematics’ is  the systematic treatment of magnitude, relationships between figures and forms, and relations between quantities expressed symbolically.  It is something difficult; something that could not be done easily or readily done. 

In olden days, people memorized tables and were so through in Maths. Some of the commonest Qs were in the nature of :

**  The price of 405 mangoes is Rs.3645/-  
What will be the price of 9 mangoes ?

**   If 20 me  taken 30 days to complete a job –
In how many days can 25 men complete the job

Can modern day children answer them without a calculator.  How popular is ‘Elements’ the mathematical treatise written by  Greek mathematician Euclid in Alexandria c. 300 BC.

Maths is perceived to be tough and exacting involving the brain power.  It’s know-how is Cumulative,  which means it works much like a stack of building blocks. You have to gain understanding in one area before you can effectively go on to “build upon” another area.  So the primary learning is that of  the  rules for addition, subtraction, multiplication,  division,  etc.,   Then through the  use of abstraction and logical reasoning, mathematics develops from counting, calculation, measurement, and the systematic study of the shapes and motions of physical objects. Practical mathematics has been a human activity for as far back as written records exist.   Maths is an essential tool in many fields of application. 

The house in Kumbakonam where he lived (old and new)

It is the history of a great genius – Ramanujan born on 22nd Dec 1887 to K Srinivasa Iyengar (a clerk in a Saree shop) and Komalammal.  They lived in a traditional house in the town of Kumbakonam, which is now a museum.  He did not have great formal training in pure mathematics but made extraordinary contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions. Ramanujan's talent was said by the English mathematician G.H. Hardy to be in the same league as legendary mathematicians such as Gauss, Euler, Cauchy, Newton and Archimedes and he is widely regarded as one of the towering geniuses in mathematics.   He became a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
It is a remarkable tale of a genius who struggled throughout his lifetime but hailed so much in the modern World. He was married to a nine year old bride Janaki ammal.  He had a medical problem but his family did not have the money for the operation.  He searched for a job, stayed at friend’s house while searching for clerical position.  Upon coming to Madras, Ramanujan and his wife resided in George Town.  In May 1913, Ramanujan joined the University of Madras as its first research scholar and he first moved, for about 10  months, to Hanumantharayan Koil Street, and then to Thoppu Venkatachala Mudali Street - both in Triplicane.  His wife and mother lived with him for some months, at the latter residence before Ramanujam left for England on March 17, 1914.
Quite unfortunately in 1920, he died in 1920 due to illness, malnutrition and possibly liver infection.  He was only 32. !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

***More than any other newspaper, The Hindu has followed over the decades the mathematical achievements of Ramanujan in detail and highlighted his genius, especially from early 1914.  The first reference to Ramanujan occurs in a letter to the Editor titled ‘A Missing Boy', published on September 6, 1905 in the newspaper, which was a triweekly at the time. The letter, from J. Seenivasa Raghava Ayangar, appeals for the public's help in tracing “a Brahmin boy of the Vaishnava (Thengalai) sect, named Ramanujam, of fair complexion and aged about 18 years” who had “left his [Kumbakonam] home on some misunderstanding.”

The letter, discovered recently by The Hindu's Archives department, is being reproduced for the first time.  The missing boy was “safely back” home within days, as Ramanujan's biographer Robert Kanigel relates in The Man Who Knew Infinity.  ***

The letter in The Hindu

*** extract from ‘The Hindu” Newspaper.

1 comment:

  1. How many people have heard of this genius?? Well I have but because I was not good in geomatry, so, did not follow him much. I read about one particular case, in which, the visitor came in a taxi and he gave some astonishing calculations. Imagine, when Britishers were ruling India, an extremely poor but brilliant person got attention. He moved very late to England because of religious beliefs. Must have been a wonder, considering facilities available at that time and mathmaticians are still working on his theorems.