“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” Wilma Glodean Rudolph
On December 22, 1887 a baby boy was born in Erode, India—Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan. His family was of the Brahmin caste of Hinduism.
At this time India was under the rule of the British Empire.
The British Raj Rule came into being after the Indian rebellion (1857-8) against the East India Company which controlled India. The British government decided to take direct control in order to ensure stability.
Indian farmers raised tea and cotton crops for their overlords. With the huge outlay of land for these crops, food crops suffered; the government compensated for the insufficiency of food by importing basic food stuffs.
Most Indians were poor and dependent. A government which creates a large dependent population has ultimate control over it.
In Britain many viewed the India territory as an exotic curiosity for their amusement. They felt there was little of the Indian culture and lifestyle which was valuable.
This attitude led to the prejudiced view of the people of India. Unless they were educated in the British way of life and culture, their value was less than a shilling, a damaged one at that.
The backbone of the British Army was Indian troops. It was Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, Viceroy of India, who believed the Indian troops made the Empire invincible, and is credited with the following thought:
“If I thought it were all for nothing, and that you and I, Englishmen and Scotchmen and Irishmen in this country, were simply writing inscriptions on the sand to be washed out by the next tide; if I felt that we were not working here for the good of India in obedience to a higher law and a nobler aim, then I would see the link that holds India and England together severed without a sigh. But it is because I believe in the future of this country and the capacity of our own race to guide it to goals that it has never hitherto attained, that I keep courage and press forward.”
It was this environment that Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan grew up. His mother Komalatammal taught him the Brahmin/HinduinduHin faith, which he maintained until his death.
At an early age it was apparent there was something special about this boy. He was a quick learner even though his health was not good.
He excelled in mathematics. He delved into mathematical wonders and found a connection with his faith.
He would go to London in 1914 and dazzle and frustrate the learned minds of the time with his unorthodox approach to mathematics. On March 16, 1916 he graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Science (Ph.D. equivalent).
However, although the intellectual stimulus was good for both him and his professors, his health had suffered. Being a vegetarian in the 1910s in London made it difficult for him to maintain a proper diet; working feverishly on his research allowed sleep to elude this young man while seeking the infinity provided by mathematics.
On February 18, 1918 he was chosen for the Cambridge Philosophical Society. Three days later his name appeared on the list of possible candidates for the Royal Society of London.
On May 2 he was elected to the Royal Society. On October 10 he became a fellow of Trinity College.
This young man from India had achieved something for which his fellow Indians would honor and remember him for the rest of time. However, his health continued to decline.
On February 27, 1919 he sailed back to India. With his health in full decline, he died April 26, 1920.
India lost a great hero. The world lost a genius whose life ended too soon.
On April 29 a film about this remarkable man will premiere. The trailer is below.
G. D. Williams © 2016
The Man Who knew Infinity
“Political Map of the Indian Empire, 1893” from Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, London: Archibald Constable and Sons, 1893
Image British Raj