Ono, Ken (Author)

Notices of the American Mathematical Society

Volume: 57, no. 11

Issue: 11

Pages: 1410-1419

This story begins with a cryptic letter written by a dying genius, the clues of which inspired scores of mathematicians to embark on an adventure which resembles an Indiana Jones movie. It is reminiscent of the quest for the Holy Grail, in which skillful knights confront great obstacles. But these knights are mathematicians, and the Grail is replaced by a mathematical Rosetta Stone that promises to reveal hidden truths in new worlds. The Saga Our drama begins on March 27, 1919, the date of Srinivasa Ramanujan's triumphant, but bittersweet, Indian homecoming. Five years earlier, accepting an invitation from the eminent British mathematician G. H. Hardy, the amateur Ramanujan had left for Cambridge University with the dream of making a name for himself in the world of mathematics. Now, stepping o the ship Nagoya in Bombay (now Mumbai), the two-time college dropout, who had intuited unimaginable formulas, returned as a world-renowned number theorist. He had achieved his goal. At the young age of thirty-one, Ramanujan had already made important contributions to a mindboggling array of subjects:1 the distribution of prime numbers, hypergeometric series, elliptic functions, modular forms, probabilistic number theory, the theory of partitions, and q-series, among others. He had published over thirty papers, including seven with Hardy. In recognition of these accomplishments, Ramanujan was named a Fellow of Trinity College, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (F.R.S.), an honor shared by Sir Isaac Newton. Sadly, the occasion of Ramanujan's homecoming was not one of celebration. He was a very sick man; he was much thinner than the rotund Ramanujan his Indian friends remembered. One of the main reasons for his declining health was malnutrition. He had been adhering to a strict vegetarian diet in a time and place with no adequate resources to support it. He also struggled with the severe change in climate. Accustomed to the temperate weather of south India, he did not have or did not wear appropriate clothing to protect him from the cool and damp Cambridge weather. These conditions took their toll, and he became gravely ill. He was diagnosed2 with tuberculosis, and he returned to India seeking familiar surroundings, a forgiving climate, and a return to good health. Tragically, Ramanujan's health declined over the course of the following year, and he passed away on April 26, 1920, in Madras (now Chennai), with his wife Janaki by his side. R

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