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An Ode To Ramanujan

By Poojan Sarvaiya

When we first think of Ramanujan, the first thought that hits our mind is the usually known brilliance and the fact that he died at the young age of 32, and the general trivia that he was recently portrayed by Dev Patel in the movie ‘The Man who knew Infinity’ a couple years back.

However, today, on his 132ndbirth date, I attempt to take the reader along with e into a deeper dive into Ramanujan’s life, and understanding the psyche that drove the person into being the underrated legend that he is today.

Ramanujan was born in a lower middle class family and throughout his life, was plagued with health and personal problems, in spite of which he was credited with having compiled more than 3800 identities, equations and results, mainly in the fields of mathematical analysis, number theory and infinite series, all of which have proven correct owing to the advanced skills at hand today, which is precisely the reason why it is shocking that he was able to conjure up thee proof a decade back, without any substantial backing of scientific study or suitable guides before he reached Cambridge and was under the tutelage of Professor GH Hardy. An event that substantially demonstrates Ramanujan’s mind when it came to numbers is the popularly known 1729 incident, best explained in the words of Professor Hardy, relating a personal incident regarding Ramanujan-

I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavourable omen. “No,” he replied, “it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

The two different ways are:

1729 = 13 + 123 = 93 + 103

This incident, although well known, demonstrates the ingenuity of Ramanujan’s brain when it came to numbers, which he regarded not as we do, but rather as living, breathing creatures, each with characteristics of its own, which is probably the reason he was able to achieve this lot in a few years. Another  example is the Ramanujan square which looks something like this-

Can you see what is so unique about the square? The Ramanujan square is an example of a magic square, meaning that the rows, columns and the diagonals add up to the same number. However, if you are somewhat more observant, you will discover that this is not merely a magic square but a super magic square, meaning that the four corners, the four middle squares (17, 9, 24, 89), the first and last rows two middle numbers (12, 18, 86, 23), and the first and last columns two middle numbers (88, 10, 25, 16) all add up to the sum of 139. Look at the photo rather more carefully, here’s the final riposte that will shock you- converting the top row to a date format, ie 22.12.1887, you will find that the date is Ramanujan’s birthday. Shocked? I certainly was. Another interesting fact about Ramanujan is that he was a devout Hindu, and credited his mathematical capabilities to divinity, further believing that the knowledge he revealed was given to him by his family goddess. He once said that ‘An equation has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.’ It is certainly interesting to see how a man of science could coexist with religion and hold both on the same pedestal.

Ramanujan’s legacy can be quantified easily with the quote by Freeman Dyson, who said that ‘the seeds from Ramanujan’s garden have been blowing on the wind and have been sprouting all over the landscape.’ And on his birth anniversary, it would be great if we could think once of how much more Ramanujan could have achieved if he didn’t die young and all we can do is emulate his love of a subject in the manner he thought so beautifully in.


Published by mscnm

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