A beautiful mind

Professor R. Sivaraman’s biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan, Enngalin Anbar, gives Tamil math-lovers insights into the life and work of the genius

January 04, 2013 06:50 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 09:57 pm IST

The story in Tamil: Professor Sivaraman and Enngalin Anbar, the biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan

The story in Tamil: Professor Sivaraman and Enngalin Anbar, the biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan

The long wait is over. Finally, we have a comprehensive and inspired biography on Srinivasa Ramanujan in the gifted mathematician’s mother tongue — Tamil.

Enngalin Anbar ( The Lover Of Numbers ) by R. Sivaraman, math professor at D.G. Vaishnav College and founder of the Pie Mathematics Association that conducts workshops to kindle in children an appreciation of the fun and beauty of math, is a Tamil biography like no other. In an imposing A4 format, and comprising 457 pages with 165 images, including those of 25 letters written by, to and about Ramanujan, and numerous anecdotes on the genius, this book weaves together a personal, mathematical and social narrative. Enngalin Anbar attempts to provide math-loving Tamils, who are not conversant with English, glimpses into the intriguing life and work of Ramanujan.

“Ramanujan is so revered in Tamil Nadu that, often, when a child displays a glimmer of talent for mathematics, he is dubbed ‘a budding Ramanujan’. But we (Tamils) really have no idea about the incredible beauty of his mathematical derivations and formulae. That is what inspired me to write this book,” says Prof. Sivaraman.

To gather information, Sivaraman corresponded with mathematicians such as Prof. Bruce Berndt, Robert Kanigel (who wrote the biography The Man Who Knew Infinity ), Prof. Michel Waldschmidt (an expert on number theory and Ramanujan’s math work), and Prof. George E. Andrews (former president, American Mathematical Society). Enngalin Anbar throws light on the tremendous significance of Ramanujan’s work and the research spawned by it over the last decade. The book also features letters not reproduced, so far, in a biography on Ramanujan, such as those written by him to his father and mother following his arrival in England and his correspondence with his friend Krishna Rao who also went to England to pursue higher education. Besides, Enngalin Anbar is written from an Indian perspective.

“I must confess, writing the book has drained me,” says Sivaraman. But it also brought him closer to Ramanujan. As he wrote about the events of 1920 — Ramanujan’s last days before he passed away at the age of 32 — Sivaraman suffered a bout of depression.

“I knew it was a hundred years since his demise, but the loss seemed so recent. Thirty-two is hardly an age to die, especially for someone with such a beautiful mind,” he says. Prof. Bruce Berndt, who has devoted a lifetime to researching the math theorems scribbled in Ramanujan’s famous notebooks, says via e-mail, “When mathematicians encounter Ramanujan's elegant formulae or arguments demonstrating their truth, we often exclaim, “What a beautiful result!” or “What an ingenious proof!” Except for Euler perhaps, no one else has come up with as many beautiful formulae as Ramanujan....I hope Tamil readers will be inspired by Enngalin Anbar to know more about Ramanujan's mathematics to experience the beauty of his ideas.”

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