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| Srinivas Ramanujan
Srinivas Ramanujan, the great Indian scientist who gained name and fame as a mathematician, was born on December 22, 1887, in a small village named Erode, near Kumbakonam In Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu. His father Kuppuswamy Srinivas Iyengar belonged to a poor, conservative Brahmin family. He worked as a small-time clerk with a local businessman. His mother Komalatamma was courteous and religious. The family’s poor economic condition made it difficult to raise even one child.
Eventually, Ramanujan was admitted to the local primary school. The most intelligent boy in the class, his mastery over mathematics was unmatched. He could do mental calculations very quickly. Ramanujan was a child prodigy. Sometimes his questions would even put his teacher in a difficult situation. After school hours when other children would be playing, he would be busy with his slate and chalk.
In November 1897, at the age of 10, he stood first in the primary school examination in the entire Tanjore district. This paved his way for a free education at the Kumbakonam High School. In high school too, he stood first in all the mathematics examinations and received many awards. This impressed his teachers.
In Ramanujan's neighbourhood lived a college boy. Ramanujan once asked him for his mathematics textbook. The boy gave the book but wondered why a school student needed a college book. Later, he was surprised to know that Ramanujan had solved all the sums in the book. Then onwards, whenever he faced difficulty in mathematics he would consult Ramanujan. Now, he also got other mathematics books for Ramanujan from college. By 13, Ramanujan had read a book on trigonometry from the library. He proved the unsolved theorems given in the book, in his notebook. When he was 15, he obtained a copy of George Shoobridge Carr’s Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure and Applied Mathematics, two volumes (1880-86). This collection of some 6,000 theorems aroused his genius. Having verified the results in Carr’s book, Ramanujan went beyond it, developing his own theorems and ideas.
In 1903, at the age of 16 he appeared for the matriculation examination. He scored a first class in mathematics and was awarded scholarship. He joined the government college. Even in college he was engrossed in mathematics and ignored other subjects. As a result he scored full marks in mathematics and failed in the other subjects. His scholarship was discontinued. He appeared again for the examination only to fail. This greatly upset his father and he had to discontinue his college studies. Thus, in 1906 his formal education came to an end.
His father was worried about Ramanujan’s obsession with mathematics. To make him aware of his responsibilities he was married at the age of 22. His wife Janaki was aged nine then. Now Ramanujan started his quest for a Job. Though unsuccessful Initially, mathematics eventually proved to be of help to him. Since 1903. Ramanujan had started noting down mathematical work in his notebook. By 1910, he had filled two thick books with his mathematical research. He took these notebooks and approached P Ramaswamy Iyer, the founder of the Indian Mathematical Society. Ramaswamy was greatly impressed on seeing these books. He gave him a letter addressed to the professor of mathematics at the Presidency College in Chennai (Madras). To his good luck, the professor had earlier taught at his college.
He immediately recognized Ramanujan and gave him a recommendation letter addressed to Rama Rao, the Collector of Nellore. Due to his personal interest in mathematics, the Collector ensured that Ramanujan got a job at the Accountant General’s office in Chennai. Sometime later, he got a job as a clerk in the accounts department of the Chennai Port Trust. His monthly salary of Rs 30 improved his economic condition to some extent.
Whenever he got time from office he wrote research articles. These articles were published in the Indian Mathematical Society magazine. This made him famous in the mathematics circle of Chennai. Soon some professors and educationalists became aware of his work and brilliance. With their recommendation he was awarded from May 1, 1913, a monthly scholarship of Rs 75 from Chennai University to continue his research in mathematics. At this time he did not have any university degree. On the advice of well-wishers he decided to seek the guidance of some great mathematician. In those days England was considered the centre of mathematics Ramanujan sent his 120 theorems and formulae to renowned mathematician Prof Godfrey H. Hardy, a Fellow of the Trinity College of Cambridge University. After he had gone through these notebooks received by post he talked about them to his colleague Prof Littlewood. They realized the brilliance of the author of these notebooks. Soon an exchange of letters began between Hardy and Ramanujan. Hardy made an arrangement for Ramanujan to visit England. In the meantime, Prof E H Neville from Cambridge University came on a visit to Chennai University. Hardy had asked him to meet Ramanujan and convince him to come to England. Local friends and well-wishers were ready to render all possible help to him to visit England.
With such combined efforts, Chennai University agreed to grant Ramanujan an annual scholarship of 250 pounds for two years. Hardy had taken the responsibility of Ramanujan’s travel and stay in England. However, his parents objected to his decision. For a boy coming from an orthodox Vaishnavite family, crossing the seas did not have the religious sanction. Finally, after being convinced by his well-wishers, Ramanujan’s parents allowed him to go abroad. He reached England on April 17, 1914. Thereafter, under the guidance of Hardy and Littlewood, Ramanujan undertook systematic study and research. Meanwhile, the World War I broke out. With Littlewood having to go to the battlefront. Hardy looked after him and guided him.
With the onset of winter, Ramanujan found it difficult to withstand the harsh cold of England. Since he was an orthodox Brahmin and strict vegetarian he cooked his own food. He felt lonely too. Hardy saw in him a brilliant mathematician. Only due to his care and concern was Ramanujan able to stay in England for five years. Hardy had become his true friend, guide and philosopher. Sometime later Hardy wrote a letter to Chennai University stating that Ramanujan was Indeed a great Indian mathematician and he had never met such a genius. After receiving his letter of appreciation, Chennai University extended Ramanujan’s scholarship from two years to five years till March, 1919. Only a matriculate, Ramanujanl was conferred the BA degree in 1916.
During his five years stay in England, 25 of his research papers were published. This had made him popular in the world of mathematics. Ramanujan was considered one of the greatest mathematician of that time. In October 1918, London’s Royal Society made him a Fellow. He was the second Indian to receive this honour. Navy engineer Ardeshji Khordashji was the first Indian to receive such an honour in February 1918, by Trinity College.
In 1917, Ramanujan fell ill and was admitted in a hospital. Initially, the disease was diagnosed as TB, but later, it was believed to be due to lack of proper nutrition and deficiency of vitamins. Presuming that the dry weather of Chennai would suit him, the doctors advised him to return to India. Finally, in March, 1919, he returned to India. Despite being treated by friends and well-wishers, he met with an untimely death within a year on April 26, 1920 at Kumbakonam. A bright star set suddenly on the horizon. He was only 32 years old then. He was recognized by mathematicians as a phenomenal genius without peer since Leonhard Euler (1707-83), Swiss mathematician and Karl Jacobi (1804-51), German mathematician.
His research in mathematics, which he noted down in three thick notebooks, is still known as ‘Ramanujan's Notebooks’. Later, even these became a subject of deep study. In 1927, Cambridge University got these research works edited by Hardy and got them published. Still some of his research works remained unpublished. On the occasion of Ramanujan's birth centenary, the mathematics department of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, got many of his works edited and published. One of his notebooks was found missing. It was Prof George Andrews who later found it. He is conducting research in America and intends to get it edited and published.
In 1988, Cambridge University and Trinity College decided to grant a yearly pension of £ 2000 to Janaki Amma, the widow of this world famous mathematician.
It was decided to grant this pension for his research s work at the university, services he rendered to the institute t and his research contribution to the world of mathematics.