FORGOTTEN ,YET IMMORTAL December 22,1887 witnessed the birth of arguably India’s greatest mathematician of all time, in Erode

, Tamil Nadu.Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar - one of the greatest names in 20th century mathematics, if not of all time. Born in poverty he had but one passion in life-an all consuming obsession with the properties of numbers, one of the most esoteric branches of mathematics. Since paper was expensive, Ramanujan would do most of his work on slate, and then transfer the results to paper . Although his talent was recognized early, he had very little opportunities in India. So, in 1913,he wrote a letter to G H Hardy, who was at Cambridge, begging the pre-eminent English mathematician's opinion on several results he had obtained about numbers.Hardy,initially sceptical, realized that the letter was the work of a genius, and that the results ”had to be true, for if they were not, no one would have the imagination to invent them”. He arranged for Ramanujan to come to England, after some persuasion and there followed a five year long productive collaboration between the two.Ramanujan confounded the European mathematicians ,often coming up with results ,based on nothing more than pure intuition. Recognitions followed. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society and also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He suffered from ill-health in England and after he returned to India, died at the age of 33, due to tuberculosis.

He worked on infinite series and continued fractions. His notebooks are still being plumbed for their secrets today, and have been the inspiration for opening up many new areas of research. Now how can anyone, once made aware of the towering achievements of Ramanujan,of what he achieved in such a short and tragic life, with all the odds stacked against him, can fail to be inspired ? The story is one of the most tragic, romantic and haunting in all of mathematics. It is the story of how a genius, by his sheer brilliance and supreme faith in his own ability, became a true scientific immortal. What might he have achieved had he lived longer?Further,as Hardy notes,” the real tragedy of Ramanujan was not his early death at the age of 32, but that in his most formative years, he did not receive proper training, and so a significant part of his work was rediscovery...". Ramanujan was stifled in India by an inefficient and inelastic education system. Nearly a century later, the situation still remains much the same. If it happened to be the birth anniversary of a politician, for instance, our newspapers would be filled with full page-sized adverts. If it was some film star, the TV channels would make sure none of us missed it. But scientists and mathematicians? They get systematically ignored by the media. Because they're "unglamorous"? Consider this. The entire sphere of e-commerce today, is dependent on the properties of numbers. To secure information exchange over the internet, it is encrypted using mathematical algorithms, using the properties of prime numbers (which are numbers indivisible except by themselves and by 1.).You are witnessing an application of number theory every time you

withdraw money from an ATM. Happily, in Ramanujan's case, the record is being set straight. A couple of months ago, an Indo-British group led by Dev Benegal and Stephen Fry ,made the announcement that they were making a film on Ramanujan.His is a tale that should be deeply moving to anyone to who hears it. In any case Ramanujan will never be forgotten. Let me tell you this. In say, a millennia from now, all our politicians and pop culture icons-people unworthy of even uttering aloud the name of Ramanujan- shall be nothing more than mere footnotes in history, while as long as humanity survives Ramanujan and others like him will never fade from humanity's collective memory. The best I can do is quote from the ever eloquent Hardy again:

"Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. ‘Immortality’ may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean."