Biopicks: Legacy of the Man Who Knew Infinity

Deccan Chronicle.  | Sridhar Sattiraju

Entertainment, Hollywood

The life and times of genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and India’s infinite love for numbers.

A still from the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity

Economics, mathematics and physics. The three form the very foundations of our lives here. They were also the hardest to learn, the toughest to master and depending on which bench you sat on in school, the most satisfying. But despite their dreary exterior, the three subjects have given life to some fantastic cinema — you’ll remember the very troubled John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001), the ambitious team owner Billy Beane from Moneyball (2011) and the very delightful IQ (1994), about Albert Einstein, the matchmaker.

It’s Hollywood’s love affair with genius and there seems to be no end to the number of cinematic permutations and combinations while bringing to film the lives of some of the most influential characters the world has ever known. The latest sensation in the genre is The Man Who Knew Infinity, about the life and times of Srinivasa Ramanujan. The film mostly celebrates the friendship between Professor G.H. Hardy and the prodigal Ramanujan.

But has the biopic on Ramanujan’s life highlighted the role played by Indians in advancing the mathematical process? We don’t have to look far from the ‘Zero’ because India has had Bhaskara-I, Brahmagupta, Aryabhatta-II and apart from these ancient geniuses there have been modern demonstrations of near genetic-level brilliance at various levels of mathematical applications —from stock market analysis to Math Olympiads.

Then there’s the return of Vedic Mathematics, which uses sutras to compute large numbers — without a calculator. And even as the classic Abacus makes a return to classrooms here, Vedic Mathematics is experiencing wide embrace with coaching institutions. In 2015, Neha Maglik, a chemical engineer from BITS Pilani used vedic maths and created history by scoring 100 per cent in the Common Admission Test, of 2014.

During his time, Ramanujan was seen as a madman. He could fire off fifteen digits of Euler’s constant known as ‘e’ and was responsible for detailed theories that are now being used in exotic mathematics. He died a miserable death at 32 — due malnourishment and over-exertion. This is a man who was faced with an unending thirst to explore the farthest boundaries of maths. And as we enter the second century of the Indian Mathematical Society, the question to ask today is: how far will Indians carry on the legacy of the man who was the leading light in mathematics in the last millennium?

The author can be reached on sridhar.sattiraju@gmail.com

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