Introduction

The lesson “Ramanujan” deals with the hard work and curiosity of the World’s renowned mathematician, Srinivasa Ajyangar Ramanujan, who is often nicknamed as “the man who knew infinity”.

Being an Indian mathematician, Ramanujan had made various contributions in the field of theory of numbers, including pioneering discoveries of the properties of the partition function. As a child prodigy, he was largely self-taught in mathematics and had compiled over three thousand theorems by the year 1914 when he moved to Cambridge. Besides Ramanujan, the lesson also explores about the other famous mathematicians like Hardy,Gauss,Euler,Abel and Riemann.

The lesson begins with Godfrey Harold Hardy,an English mathematician,engaged with few letters on his breakfast table,a large untidy envelope decorated with Indian stamps. When he opened the envelope, he found sheets of paper by no means clean on which in a non-English script, were line after line of symbols.Written in disjointed English ,signed by an unknown Indian, the letter pleads Hardy to give an opinion of the mathematical discoveries.

All these wild or fantastic looking theorems mentioned in the letter,made Hardy not only feel bored but also irritated.

Self-Taught Ramanujan

After spending some leisure time, Hardy was suddenly annoyed by the thought of the wild theorems which he had never seen before nor imagined. He doubted whether the writer was an unknown mathematician of genuis. Hardy then sent word to Littlewood, an English mathematician to have a discussion after the dinner. By midnight the two English mathematicians realized that the manuscripts were actually written by a natural mathematical genius. It was only later that Hardy decided that it was Ramanujan who was a natural mathematical genius in the class of Gauss, a German mathematician and Euler, a Swiss mathematician. Hardy was determined to bring Ramanujan to England.

Ramanujan on the other hand was a poor clerk feeding his family on the salary of twenty pounds per year. It was impossible for him to travel across the ocean only because of his mother’s superstitious beliefs. Fortunately, one night his mother dreamt of the Goddess of Namakkal commanding her not to stand in the way of her son’s life purpose. So, she permitted Ramanujan to travel abroad by announcing that she dreamt about her son sitting in a big hall among a group of Europeans and the Goddess Namakkal allowing her to let Ramanujan fulfill his life purpose.

Failure Defeated by Passion

Ramanujan finally arrived in England in the year 1914. He had not been able to enter Madras University because he couldn’t matriculate in English. However, when it comes to nature, Hardy described him as amiable and good-natured. Hardy was determined to teach Ramanujan some formal mathematics as though he had been a scholarship candidate at Winchester.

Hardy called it an unusual experience because his candidate, Ramanujan had literally no knowledge about theorems, proofs and reasons for mathematical problems despite his deepest insight in mathematics. It is good to remember that Ramanujan became the first Indian to be awarded by England and being elected by the Royal society as a fellow at the age of just thirty. Unfortunately, he became ill and died of tuberculosis in the year 1920 in Madras (Chennai).

During one of the visits, Hardy narrate an incident where he informed Ramanujan about his taxi number which was 1729 and called it dull. However, the same number attracted Ramanujan, who claimed that the number is very interesting, for it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways. As written in “Apology”,Hardy recalled that Galois died at twenty one,Abel at twenty seven, Ramanujan at thirty three and Riemann at forty.