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An ode to a genius

A scene from the play, Partition by Ira Hauptman. Photo: special arrangement  

The collaboration between two of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century, Srinivasa Ramanujan and G.H. Hardy is fabled. Their relationship is the subject of Ira Hauptman’s 2003 play, Partition.Ramanujan, was born in a small town in India, and overcame several barriers, including orthodoxy and poverty to go to Cambridge, and make a name for himself in Mathematics. There he met Hardy, and they went onto develop an abiding partnership.

Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT) staged the play 10 years ago. They will stage the play again this weekend — closer to the birth anniversary of Ramanujan, which falls on December 22 — as part of its History of Ideas programme.

Apart from Ramanujan and Hardy, the play has three other characters. Sridhar Ramanthan, the director of the play, explains: “Goddess Namagiri was Ramanujan’s family goddess. The playwright brings Namagiri alive. She accompanies Ramanujan to Cambridge to take care of him.” The second character is the ghost of French mathematician, Pierre de Fermat. “Hardy argued that European mathematics is all about proof. Ramanujan, on the other hand, was more intuitive and believed in taking a leap of faith. But here was Fermat who, two centuries earlier, had formulated a theorem and said, I will not give proof, this has to be solved.” The third character is a classics professor.

“He is Hardy’s friend and the audience sees Hardy through him.”

“We loved the script, and we wanted to perform it again,” says Sridhar. “Usually biographies tend to eulogise. But this play is witty and smart and not pathos-driven. There’s no maths involved, but it is about math” Sridhar adds it portrays a side to Ramanujan that few know of. “People are used to one photograph, in which he looks dour and serious. But he was actually very funny, jovial and lively. He used to walk around Cambridge with slippers. Even when he was dying, and was just a bag of bones, the life in him never went away.”

Hardy too had his peculiarities. “He never looked into mirrors. He was an atheist. He loved cricket. By contrast, Ramanujan wasn’t interested in the game.” Sridhar and his cast members did a fair amount of research. “Ramanujan had watched a hit play at the time, in a London theatre, Charley’s Aunt. We researched on the play.”

The immediate association with a title like Partition is the Indian Freedom Movement. But it is far from that. Partition is a number theory. Ramanujan and Hardy came up with a formula to calculate the number of partitions.

The set design is simple, says Sridhar. “We are also working on the unplugged version of the play where we can perform in smaller spaces.” Sridhar discovered his love for theatre in school. And when he went to BITS Pilani, he actively participated in theatre there. He has been associated with BLT since 2002. He has earlier directed Anklet in 2006 and co-directed Tales of Tenali Rama with Aliyeh Rizvi.

Partition will be performed today, December 20, at Alliance Francaise at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm, and on December 21, at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm. Tickets are priced at Rs. 200 and are available on bookmyshow.com. For details call 9880791171.


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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 12:40:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/an-ode-to-a-genius/article6708231.ece

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