Tales Of The Slate: An Ode To Math God Srinivas Ramanujan

Wish you a Powerful birthday, Mr. Ramanujan.

Powerful is of significance here. In keeping with your nature, you may be thrilled to learn that this happens to be your 125th birth anniversary. 125, being what you would refer to as a Powerful Number.

Today the idle mind travels back a century to the intriguing life that you led – and could have led – had you not succumbed to the invitations of death far too early in life. Apologies Sire, we have never understood nor appreciated mathematicians very well; most times, not at all. It may not surprise you that a hundred years since, little has changed in this respect.

You presented to the world a vivid picture of what raw genius looked like. Genius appears in various degrees; spine-tingling, probably being appropriate when referring to yours. The kind of genius that is easily given to mass misunderstanding, and its logical extension, avoidance. That very few of the best teachers or compatriots could comprehend your ability bears testimony to the vast reservoirs of genius that you were gifted with.

A soul not given to the shackles of commonly accepted norms, and largely untainted by the fangs of education, you showed the world the values of harnessing one’s deepest interests in an area by flunking repeatedly in subjects others than Mathematics. The system tried its best to smother your talents; little has changed since you passed the world. We continue to be committed to building well-rounded individuals.

Most of us do not see beauty hidden in numbers. The ornate unending continuum of continued fractions – one of your favourites – to the very depths of Infinity, fails to excite but a handful amongst us. We love our Music, being moved to tears by pathos and left euphoric by uplifting tunes. When reminded that the wiggling notes are permutations and combinations of the twelfth root of 2, displeasure sets in. We do not appreciate Math detracting from our appreciation of Music. Breaking emotions down to wiggling roots of 2 is patently unromantic, bordering almost on the blasphemous. We like to appreciate the message, whilst dismissing the messenger.

Fault us not, Sire, for we see little utility in much of what you devoted your life to; abstract mathematics. An area replete with such gruesome arcana that all but the best, and/or the most persistent, of minds get lost in the abyss. Perhaps there is a class of beauty, that lies beyond the limits of our imagination, that is accessible only to a select few. The limits of our aesthetic powers inhibits our appreciation.

There are few things more disconcerting than the act of trying to express beauty, to an audience not gifted with the right eyes. The only thing more disconcerting, is to be at the receiving end, as a mathematically blind bystander. We, Sire, find it much easier to remind ourselves of the apparent non-utility of a subject area as daunting as yours. Brushing aside intimidating genius is easier than owning up to the limits of our comprehension.

Few possess the gift to channelise the power of the human mind in forging new pathways. Fewer still are endowed with the ability to carve multiple pathways to a destination. Most of us wilt not far from the starting point. There is probably a thin line separating a freak from a genius; we seek benefit of doubt in the former.

In this age of vast computing power, it is unthinkable to contemplate what you achieved, working mostly with a rundown slate, a chalk, and your elbow standing in for an eraser. A true rags to mathematical riches story.

Divinity probably exists. The world had occasion to witness it; in you.

SR signature

18 thoughts on “Tales Of The Slate: An Ode To Math God Srinivas Ramanujan

  1. Very moving tribute. I think the vast majority of people will continue to be somewhat suspicious of people who, in their view, are not “normal”. Or average. Or mediocre.
    The purpose of education seems to be to continue to build an army of compliant beings and propagate average-ness. It is not about to change soon because it also serves to lift many from abject misery and poverty to average-ness.

    1. I concur. The Bell Curving of education may have benefits, but falls short in harnessing the powers of those so vastly gifted as to make lasting contributions to humankind.

      Everyone has to be accommodated, I suppose. But some tweaks may be needed to the system to do a better job at nurturing outliers, on both sides. Focusing on the positive outliers may also lead to much noise over how it engenders inequality.

  2. Perhaps there is a class of beauty, that lies beyond the limits of our imagination, that is accessible only to a select few. The limits of our aesthetic powers inhibits our appreciation.

    Perfectly said. I am seriously limited, but am in serious awe of the genius. Happy 125th birthday.

  3. I had once read a quote attributed to him “An equation is not complete unless it expresses a thought on divinity”

    Very nice article!


  4. Twelfth root of 2? Must have root in a psyche that accepted 12 hours in a day /night, 12 inches per foot (although nature gave to humans 5 digits on each hands thus making it 10 (origin of the decimal counting system).

    Why not have a more natural 10 keys of chromatic scale using 10th root of 2 as the ratio?

    Music is not for animals with 4 digits instead of 5 on a paw. Let them face their own music.
    Of course no music nor charmer’s pipe for the snakes (they are deaf, apart from having digital disadvantage)

    Then make that 10th root of 3 and so on and so forth.
    Of course no stopping the third root of 3: triaves and 4th root of 4: quartave and so on too. Doesn’t sound musical to you? It is only the conditioning and ear training, you know.
    Take that you dirty animal!

    1. The voice of the ignorant is loudest.

      Of course, coming from as erudite a music lover as you seem to be, your rant is worthy of some pondering. Your demonstration of intense appreciation for music is matched by your thorough and complete lack of understanding of sound frequencies, and school-level counting. It is a heady combination, good Sire.

      I’m sure the music lover in you would identify 7 basic notes, 4 soft notes (Re, Ga, Dha, Ni) and a sharp Ma in one octave; if you follow Indian classical music. If one uses basic math to count most people would arrive at 12 (7 + 4 + 1). A higher octave is at 2 times the sound frequency of its lower octave counterpart. The individual divisions, of the 12 notes, is spread out equally at the 12th root of 2.

      So, my apologies, wise Sire, for counting incorrectly. I suppose you are free to use 10, or any other root of 2, to demonstrate your intense appreciation, which your ear training and conditioning have helped you achieve.

      As for counting, it might help if you revisited first standard math, specifically counting, before shooting your musical mouth off elsewhere. There is a grave risk of looking less than impressive, Sire.

      But but, I must tender an apology for the ‘blasphemy’ that I mentioned in my post. Cheers!

  5. In all candor, I’m surprised to see an article on Ramanujan. A friend of mine would call this the Law of Attraction (to which I always replay, “Confirmation bias.”), but I just recently learned of this brilliant man. From what I understand, much of what he provided came via his dreams; his own version of Einstein’s intuition. This was a really nice tribute, and ingeniously written.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      His lack of mainstream education and schooling in mathematics led to him rediscovering things that had been discovered by marquee names (such as Carr, Euler). Of course he thought he was the first, but it was not to be. Of course, this does not detract from the power of his mind. A rediscovery achieved within the walls of ignorance of earlier work counts just as well.

      A fellow with a rare capacity for ingenuity, a remarkable personality indeed.

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