The Little Known Genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan

Math is an intriguing subject which is also capable of inducing phobia in some unfortunate souls. But whatever it may be, math is inextricable from our daily life. The world around us is made up of complex calculations which are being decoded gradually. Even the most mundane things have a mathematical code that anyone hardly thought ever existed. The workings of number never fail to amaze its lovers and haters alike. Mathematicians have pondered endlessly and come up with formulae and theorems which are taught in educational institutions today. Some have been blessed to establish their own theorems and formulae but failed to receive the fame they deserved. One such name is Srinivasa Ramanujan. He made extraordinary contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions. And he did all this without any formal training in pure mathematics.

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Ramanujan was born at Erode, Madras Presidency in 1887 in a Tamil Brahmin family. Since his childhood he displayed immense talent. At the age of 10 he was given a book on advanced trigonometry which he mastered by the age of 12. His talent was recognized in his school as well where he won several awards and accolades. By the age of 17, Ramanujan had begun carrying out his own research. When he graduated high school, he was given a scholarship to study at the Government Arts College, Kumbakonam, but he was so interested in mathematics that he failed to clear his non-mathematical coursework. His scholarship was cancelled due to that. Later, he took admission but was unable to clear his Fellow of Arts exam for two consecutive years. He left college without obtaining a degree and immersed himself in independent mathematical research.

He sent his works to various mathematicians and one of them even doubted the works belonged to Ramanujan himself.  As Ramanujan discussed elliptic integrals, hypergeometric series, and his theory of divergent series, the skeptical mathematician was finally “converted” into a belief in Ramanujan’s mathematical brilliance. He used to work as a clerk at the Madras Port Trust before his works were being studied by mathematicians and professors in England in 1913 when his works were represented by some men who valued his work. G. H Hardy, an English mathematician recognized Ramanujan’s work as sheer genius and invited him to Cambridge but Ramanujan, due to his Brahmin upbringing, refused the offer. He later went to Cambridge as his parents no longer objected the trip. He returned to India in 1919 and died soon after at the age of 32. Ill health had plagued him all his life and eventually, poverty and starvation added to his woes.

It is extremely sad to see that the country lost such an exceptional talent because it failed to appreciate and provide proper financial support to assist him with his works. Among millions of children today who are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, there might be a child as brilliant as Ramanujan, waiting to be discovered, to show the world what magic she can weave with numbers. All she is waiting for, is to be handed a book.

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