“It's a story of human triumph”

Robert Kanigel, biographer of Srinivasa Ramanujan, giving a lecture in Chennai on Monday. Photo: V. Ganesan  

The story of mathematician genius Srinivasa Ramanujan is a story of human triumph and an example of what genius can accomplish against the odds, Robert Kanigel, Ramanjuan's biographer said on Monday.

Delivering a lecture hosted by the Organising Committee of Ramanujan 125, TNQ Books and Journals and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Mr. Kanigel said that while illuminating the genius of Ramanujan, “we should also momentarily hold the spotlight briefly” on the scores of people who did not make it due to adverse circumstances.

After giving a bare-bone account of the Ramanujan story, Mr. Kanigel who for his research visited India, which remains a jumble of mostly happy experiences and memories, and the beautiful but slightly forbidding Cambridge, took several questions from the audience.

Responding to a question on the everyday applicability of Ramanujan's theorems, Mr. Kanigel pointed out that Ramanujan's work was in pure mathematics and he took delight in exploring numbers without attaching any larger purpose.

Saying that he felt good when his book was translated into German, Italian or Greek, Mr. Kanigel also admitted to a certain sadness that it was not available yet in Tamil. His delight would know no end if “The Man Who Knew Infinity” were to be available in Ramanujan's own language, he said.

Offering his reasons for the title of the book, Mr. Kanigel said it defined though in a narrow sense the intimacy with which Ramanujan worked with numbers and theorems; it was as if “he knew infinity as his homeland.”

Mr. Kanigel was amused by a suggestion to get Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci to make a film based on his biography and to a questioner, who wanted to know whether Ramanujan would have felt more comfortable and enjoyed greater creative freedom in the U.S. than in Cambridge, he said he would like to think that Ramanujan in the U.S. might have felt more at home and a little “less stiff.”

When someone wanted to know whether working on the biography on Ramanujan had in any way changed him as a person, he remarked in a lighter vein that the impact would have been more on his wife when he got immersed in work.

N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, said Mr. Kanigel's biography on Ramanujan, which was first published in 1991 and has undergone several printings, was perhaps his best and most influential works.

Among the many features of this book was its perfectly legitimate practice of the art of narrative journalism, or the use of a novelistic imagination in bringing a story alive without ever crossing the line between fact and fiction, he said.

The biography counters the flatness of the picture of Ramanujan's origins and life in 19 century south India, locates him in everyday life, brings alive the emotional geography of family relationships and the imprint on a young man of the cultural ethos, religious values and rituals of the times.

Mariam Ram (TNQ Books and Journals) and Balasubramanian of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences also participated.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 8:09:56 PM |

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