Born on 22nd December 1887 into a middle-class Tamil Brahmin Iyengar family in Erode, Tamil Nadu. Srinivasa Ramanujan is one of the greatest blessings to the field of mathematics and the world. He made substantial contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions even when he had no formal education in pure mathematics. This includes solutions to mathematical problems considered to be unsolvable.
As a college dropout from a poor family, Ramanujan’s lived in very difficult conditions. He lived off the charity of friends, filling notebooks with mathematical discoveries and seeking patrons to support his work.
Finally, he met with modest success when the Indian mathematician Ramachandra Rao provided him with first a modest subsidy, and later a clerkship at the Madras Port Trust. During this period Ramanujan had his first paper published, a 17-page work on Bernoulli numbers that appeared in 1911 in the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society. Still no one was quite sure if Ramanujan was a real genius or an eccentric. With the encouragement of friends, he wrote to mathematicians in Cambridge seeking validation of his work.
The marvelous story the revolutionized the mathematics world started with a letter written to the English mathematician G. H. Hardy:
Twice he wrote with no reply; on the third try, he found Hardy.
In 1913, Ramanujan wrote a 10-page letter to the English mathematician which contained about 120 statements of theorems on infinite series, improper integrals, continued fractions, and number theory. Every prominent mathematician gets letters from cranks, and at first glance Hardy no doubt put this letter in that class. But something about the formulas made him take a second look and show it to his collaborator J. E. Littlewood. After a few hours, they concluded that the results “must be true because, if they were not true, no one would have had the imagination to invent them”.
Finally, Ramanujan’s arrival at Cambridge was the beginning of a very successful five-year collaboration with Hardy. In some ways the two made an odd pair: Hardy was a great exponent of precision in analysis, while Ramanujan’s results were, according to Hardy, “arrived at by a process of mingled argument, intuition, and induction, of which he was entirely unable to give any articulate account”. Hardy did his best to fill in the gaps in Ramanujan’s education without discouraging him. He was amazed by Ramanujan’s uncanny formal intuition in manipulating infinite series, continued fractions.
Ramanujan’s years in England were mathematically productive, and he gained the recognition he hoped for. Cambridge granted him a Bachelor of Science degree “by research” in 1916, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society becoming the first Indian to receive this honor in 1918.
But the unfamiliar climate and culture took a toll on his health. Ramanujan had always lived in a tropical climate and had just home cooked food, prepared by his mother and later by his wife: now he faced the English winter, and he had to do all his own cooking to adhere to his caste’s strict dietary rules. The War-time Shortages added to his misery. Unfortunately, in 1917 he was hospitalized, his doctors fearing for his life. By late 1918 his health had improved; he returned to India in 1919. But his health failed again, and he died in the coming year.
We at Manoj Chaudhari’s Math’s Academy, honor such extraordinary minds and feel forever grateful to the legacy that he has left behind.