The Man who knew Infinity …

Mathematics has always inspired tragic personalities, but one stands a class apart — Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan, a poor college drop whose ideas underpin the digital revolution, lived a poignant but immensely fruitful life. Ramanujan, who died aged 33, ended up at Cambridge in the early 1900s and was acknowledged as a mathematical genius.

Later dubbed the “man who knew infinity”, Ramanujan dropped out of college at a young age after his obsession with mathematics led him to fare badly in other subjects. While working as a clerk at the port of Madras, he wrote numerous letters crammed with theorems to renowned Cambridge Mathematicians. After numerous rejections he found a sympathetic ear with GH Hardy, who preferred a poor and disadvantaged to the “confident, booming, imperialist bourgeois English”.

Ramanujan’s tragedy was that he had no formal training in mathematics. He was largely self-taught in mathematics and had compiled over 3,000 theorems by the year 1914 when he moved to Cambridge. Often, his formulas were stated without proof and were only later proven to be true. His results have inspired a large amount of research and mathematical papers. To his immense frustration, he spent hours reinventing theorems that, unknown to him, had already been tackled by the great Mathematicians over decades. This coupled with the harsh British winters and a vegetarian diet in war-time Britain took a toll on his health.

Ramanujan returned to India in 1919, and died there a year later.

British director Stephen Fry and India’s Dev Benegal are currently co-producing a movie that will look at Ramanujan and his relationship with Cambridge don GH Hardy. The film will be shot in Erode, Ramanujan’s birth place, Kumbakonam where he grew up in Tamil Nadu, and in Cambridge, England where he spent five years.

This movie may well be a tribute to the tragic genius that was Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan …

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