Famed Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan’s birth anniversary on December 22 is celebrated as National Mathematics Day. Born in 1887 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, the story of Ramanujan’s tryst with mathematics is one of the most engaging tales read, depicted and performed through various works of art. Dev Patel-starrer ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ (2015) was the latest tribute to the mathematics wizard by the popular cinema. It was in 2012 that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared December 22 as National Mathematics Day.
Born into an orthodox Iyengar Brahmin family, Ramanujan’s strictly vegetarian diet and frugal eating habits took a toll on the genius’ health in London’s inclement winters where he couldn’t endure the off-shore climate, resulting in his return to Tamil Nadu where he breathed his last in Kumbakonam at a remarkably young age of 32.
Ramanujan lived a life that was devoted to mathematics in all its passion. At a fledgling age of 11, Ramanujan began to show signs of an unfolding genius. British mathematician Godfrey H. Hardy was instrumental in supporting Ramanujan’s extraordinary calibre for mathematics. The mathematics wizard made a significant contribution to mock theta function that generalises the form of the Jacobi theta functions, while preserving their general properties.
Although Ramanujan received no formal education, by the age of 12, he had mastered trigonometry and developed many theorems on his own with no assistance. He was awarded a scholarship to study at Government Arts College, Kumbakonam, but he eventually lost it due to his abysmal performance in other subjects. He ran away from home and enrolled himself at Pachaiyappa’s College in Madras. Ramanujan devoted himself solely to mathematics but fared poorly in other subjects.
There were hard times in the genius’ life as he had no way of supporting himself. Mathematician Ramaswamy Iyer helped him get a position of a clerk at the Madras Port Trust.
His breakthrough finally came in 1913, when Ramanujan wrote to G H Hardy. The British mathematician, on realising Ramanujan’s genius wrote back to him, calling him to London. Hardy then got Ramanujan into Trinity College, Cambridge and what began was a captivating saga of success. In 1917, Ramanujan was elected to be a member of the London Mathematical Society. In 1918 he also became a Fellow of the Royal Society, becoming the youngest person to achieve the feat.
Ramanujan, however, had difficulty acclimatising in London. The English diet did not suit this orthodox Brahmin eatring habits. He was even hospitalised due to ill health in 1917. He returned to India in 1919 but his health deteriorated. He passed away on April 6, 1920.