Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Indian Mathematician Visits Cambridge

Strangely, as I dwelt on stories of Indians visiting the west in the past few days, I was suddenly re-introduced to a real story by a chance email.  It is a story we know well in India - that of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and his collaboration with the Cambridge mathematicians, Hardy and Littlewood.  But I realized that it is not a story that everyone knows.

Ramanujan, an accounting clerk in Madras (Chennai) began a mathematical correspondence with G.H. Hardy in Cambridge in January 1913.  The result of this exchange was that Ramanujan was invited to visit Cambridge and, after much thought, he sailed westward in 1914.  He spent about four years there, during which he produced unusual and inspired work.  He was elected to the London Mathematical Society in 1917.  Soon after, he became a fellow of the Royal Society and a fellow of Trinity College.  His mathematics continued at a furious and prolific pace despite the war and his own ill health.

The story has no fairy tale endings, but it is a remarkable and enduring one.  A very well made film has been uploaded on youtube, in four small parts, about Ramanujan, his life and experiences.  I am giving the link below.  It puts Ramanujan's work in a social, historical and academic context (through his letters and a series of conversations with people who knew him or his work or environment) in a very interesting manner.

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