Monday, January 23, 2012

It's not Coincidence, it's Providence!

Browsing my local paper, found this little gem tucked away in a small article.  This year is the 125th birthday celebrations of mathematical genius Ramanujan, so The Hindu runs lots of maths related stuff as well as vignettes about Ramanujan, this year.  Here's a weird but nice clip from the article.

A tale Robert Kanigel repeated a couple of times during his recent visit to Madras to launch the 125th birthday celebrations of mathematical genius Ramanujan related to his first visit to Madras in 1988 to start following the Ramanujan trail on the ground as he got down to working on the mathematician's biography.

That November day he landed from London was a bandh day in Madras and the airport was virtually deserted. There was a lone auto rickshaw with a passenger in it and another person haggling to get aboard. That person was Viswanathan Venkataraman, who had also arrived from London. When he noticed the forlorn foreigner wondering what he should do, Viswanathan told him that the only way to get to the city was to squeeze in with them. And Kanigal joined them for that ride in a sardine tin.

During the ride, Viswanathan discovered that Kanigal was not a tourist but a well known writer who was working on Ramanujan's biography. “What a coincidence,” remarked Viswanathan, “I am the grandson of S. Narayana Aiyar with whom Ramanujan worked in the Port Trust.” No, it's not coincidence, it's Providence, a surprised Kanigal enthusiastically replied. And so began Kanigal's first steps in Madras that led to The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan.

1 comment:

jre said...

According to one famous story, G.H. Hardy paid a visit to Ramanujan when the great man was sick in bed (Ramanujan had TB, and died at 32). To make conversation, Hardy remarked that the cab that brought him there was number 1729, and he wished it had been a more interesting number. Ramanujan said "No, no -- it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest integer that can be expressed as two positive cubes in two different ways."

I was reminded of this once when I was buying beer. The total came to $17.29. I got all excited.
"Oh, cool -- $17.29 -- it's Ramanujan's number's worth of beer."
The guy in the beer store was lost.
"What's cool about it?"
"Well, see, the English mathematician G.H. Hardy was visiting Ramanujan when he was sick in bed ..."
The beer guy's eyes were glazing over.
" ... and the cab number was 1729 ..."
The beer guy was starting to look for his manager.
"Well, anyway, it's a very interesting amount of beer." I finished lamely, and got the hell out of there.