Srinivasa Ramanujan was one of India’s mathematical geniuses. He made
wonderful contributions to the field of advanced mathematics.
Even today, his fascinating results and mathematical theories, and a number of unpublished notebooks filled with theorems, continue to baffle and enthrall mathematicians.
Ramanujan was born in his grandmother’s house in Erode, a small village near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. While he was still a baby, his mother took him to Kumbakonam, near Chennai, where his father worked as a clerk in a cloth merchant’s shop.
He joined the Town High School there in January 1898 and was a very good student. But his real aptitude lay in mathematics. He read GS Carr’s Synopsis of elementary results in pure mathematics to teach himself mathematics.
He got a scholarship for his first year at the Government College in Kumbakonam. But he devoted more time to mathematics and neglected his other subjects.
In 1906, Ramanujan joined Pachaiyappa’s College at Chennai. He passed in math, but flunked all his other subjects. In the following years, he worked on developing his own ideas in mathematics, without having a real idea of the research topics then. All he had were the topics in Carr’s book.
On 14 July 1909, he married a nine-year-old girl his mother arranged for him. However, Ramanujan did not live with his wife until she was 12-years-old.
During this period, he published many papers and was becoming well known in Chennai as a mathematical genius. In 1913, while he worked as a clerk in the Indian Mathematical Society, Ramanujan wrote to Cambridge mathematician, GH Hardy, and told him about his work. He had read Hardy’s 1910 book Orders of Infinity.
Soon a regular correspondence developed between the two. And in 1914 Ramanujan enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge. There, Hardy and Ramanujan began collaborating.
But Ramanujan did not keep well. Being an orthodox Brahmin, he was a strict vegetarian. During World War I, when food was already scarce, it got harder for him to get special food and Ramanujan began having health problems. But, with Hardy’s encouragement, he continued to publish papers which were very well-received in the academic community.
In 1916, Ramanujan graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Science by Research. (This degree was recognised as a Ph.D. after 1920). But a year later he fell seriously ill and his doctors feared that he would die.
Ramanujan was elected as fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1918. At the same time, he was elected as fellow of the Royal Society of London. This was a great honour to him and his health seemed to improve.
But when Ramanujan arrived in India on 13 March that year, he was dying. Despite medical treatment, he died in 1920.