The man who knew Infinity

The man who knew Infinity

Have you heard of Srinivasa Ramanujan? Who was he? He was a genius mathematician. He was the second Indian to become a Fellow in the Royal Society and the first Indian to become a Fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge. In this book, you will learn many interesting things about Ramanujan. Ramanujan was a very humble person. Mathematicians around the world used to give him a lot of respect. He died at a very young age, but left behind him many great achievements that India should be proud of.


Srinivasa Ramanujan was born on 22 December 1887. His father Srinivas was a clerk in a sari shop. His mother was Komal Tamal House Wife and used to sing in a nearby temple. Ramanujan grew up in Kumbh Konam village in South India. Ramanujan was a stubborn but passionate child. Once, when he was very young and mindless, he refused to eat anything except the offerings of the temple. If they did not get the food he wanted, he would start rolling in the soil on the ground.

He was very calm by nature but would look at everything and think about it. His questions were quite different from other children like, “How far is the cloud from here” or “Who was the first man in this world”? Ramanujan loved being alone. Where other children would run away immediately as soon as they got a chance to play outside, Ramanujan loved spending time at home.

He had no interest in sports. Perhaps this was the reason that he was a bit fat. He would often tell his mother that if he got into a fight with a child someday, he would not have to fight, he would just sit on him and his work would be done. Ramanujan used to study at Kangayan Primary School. There he learned to speak English at a very young age. When he was 10 years old, he passed the primary exams. He came first in the entire district.

After this, he took admission in Town High School. He studied there for 6 years. He loved studying here the most. He was the topper in every subject, especially in maths. One day, Maths teacher was teaching that if you divide any number by yourself, then the answer is always 1. That is, if there are one thousand fruits and they are divided into one thousand people, then everyone will get one fruit.

Suddenly Ramanujan said, “If zero is divided by zero, will there still be 1 answer? If you do not divide the fruit in anyone, how will anyone get 1 fruit?” Even at a young age, there was logic in his questions.

Ramanujan’s family was strapped with money, so they used to keep a tenant. When Ramanujan was 11 years old, two Brahmin boys came to live with his family. They were student in a nearby government college. Seeing Ramanujan’s interest in maths, those boys started teaching him. But within a few months Ramanujan had learned everything from them. After this he would ask them to bring books of maths from the college library.

Once, those boys gave Ramanujan an advance book of trigonometry. At the age of 13, Ramanujan acquired his mastery in it. He also learned the complex concept of cubic equation and infinite series. He was very interested in the numerical value of (pi) and e. Ramanujan had become a celebrity in his school because of his intelligence. He was quite different from others, no one could fully understand him. But everyone would be amazed to hear his intelligence and his questions, in everyone’s mind there was a lot of respect for him. He also received several certificates for academic excellence in the school.

On the day of graduation ceremonies, the headmaster of the school honoured him with the highest award for mathematics. He introduced Ramanujan to the audience and said that “this boy deserves more than 100% or A +. No one can match him in maths”.


Ramanujan was an all-rounder in high school. He received scholarship in Government College. But his interest in maths became so much that he started ignoring other subjects. He had no interest in reading English, Physiology, Greek or Roman History, due to which he failed in all these subjects. He would spend all his time in school doing math problems. He would concentrate in class lessons and not participate in any discussion. All the time, he was simply lost in the books of algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Due to his attitude, he also lost scholarship because his numbers were bad in subjects other than maths. He also tried to go to school for some time but the pressure was too much there. At the age of 17, Ramanujan ran away from home.

A year later, he again took admission in Pachayappa College for a First Arts or (FA) degree. His new Maths teacher was surprised when he saw his notebook. He started spending more time with Ramanujan to solve the problem of maths. Ramanujan used to solve the problem in 3 steps which his teacher used to solve in 12 steps. A senior math professor also noticed his talent. He encouraged Ramanujan to solve the problems given in the journal of Maths. If Ramanujan could not solve any problem, then he would let his professor solve the problem. But the surprising thing was that the questions which Ramanujan could not solve, even his professor could not solve them.

The same trend continued in Government College. Everyone knew that Ramanujan was a genius of maths. He used to complete the three-hour math exam in just 30 minutes. But again, he failed in the remaining subjects.

Once, in the Physiology subject exam, digestive system was asked. Ramanujan returned the exam sheet without writing the answer, without writing his name. All he wrote on the sheet was, “Sir, I could not digest the chapter of digestion”. Professor read this and understood who wrote it. Ramananjan failed in the EA exam, he tried again the next year but he failed again. Everyone knew that Ramanujan was a gifted person, but there were some rules in the education system, so no one could do anything.

Then he tried to give some students tution in maths but he never agreed to the steps given in the books. Ramanujan solves it in his own way. At the age of 20, he had no job, no degree and no direction in life. He used to spend most of his time sitting on the roof of the house while solving the problem of maths. No one knows how many people would have passed from his nearby, but he would just be busy in the world of his equation and theorem. His parents understood him but slowly their patience started breaking. One day his mother said that enough happened. He asked Ramanujan to do something that a psychologist calls “time-tested Indian psychotherapy”. Got anything? She was not talking about anything else but about arrange marriage.


One day, Ramanujan’s mother went to another village to meet some friends. There she saw a 9-year-old girl with a cute face and naughty eyes. Her name was Janaki. She asked for the girl’s horoscope and started matching her with Ramanujan’s horoscope. She thought that her pairing with Ramanujan would be very good, so she talked to Janaki’s family. Janaki’s family was poor and they could only give a few copper utensils in dowry. Janaki was one of their five daughters. Ramanujan was young but he had neither a job nor any degree. His family was also poor but his mother proudly told him that her son was a genius of Maths.

On the wedding day, Ramanujan and his mother were late. The train they was coming from, took hours to reach there. That is why they reach Janaki’s house at one o’clock at night. Some other bad events also happened in this marriage, but Ramanujan’s mother was happy with this marriage. In this way, Ramanujan got married at the age of 22. After marriage, now he could not sit at home all day, so Ramanujan went out in search of a good opportunity or job.

First he went to Madras. He went door-to-door seeking help from friends. He had only one proof of his talent, his notebooks in which he solved countless problems of maths and wrote several theorems. It was very special to him, but this path was not easy for him because he had no degree, due to which many people rejected him.

There were only a few people who recognized Ramanujan’s potential and gave him a chance. One of them was Ramchandra Rao who was the District Collector and Secretary of the Indian Mathematical Society. Rao did not give him any job but gave scholarship so that Ramanujan could write for the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society. He used to give him 25 rupees every month for this work.

Ramanujan wrote some research papers and some interesting math questions for the journal. Gradually everyone’s attention started to go towards him. He loved to live near the sea in Madras. Once, one of his friends came to meet Ramanujan at the boarding house. He said, “Ramanuj, everybody calls you genius”. Ramanujan said, “I am not a genius. Look at my elbow, it will tell you my story”. His elbow became black due to ink. He used it to erase the equation written on the board.

His friend asked, “Why don’t you use paper”? Ramanujan said that he was not in a position to buy paper. He wanted to save those money to buy food. Sometimes he used to write on old paper with red ink.

One such thing led to another and Ramanujan started working at the Madras Port of Trust. He was put on the job by Officer in Charge Sir Francis Spring and Second in Command Narayan Iyer. He was given the position of accounting clerk for which he received 30 rupees a month.

Sir Francis and Narayan Iyer both were very kind to him. When there was not much work, they would have allowed him to solve the problem of maths. They would also help him prepare a draft of letters to be written for mathematicians of Cambridge University.

Through Sir Francis, British officers came to know about Ramanujan’s Extra Ordinary Talent. But they could not decide what they should do. Some of them thought Ramanujan was crazy. Some of them suggested that if no one understands Ramanujan in India, he can get better support and training in Cambridge. Ramanujan sent letters with samples of his work in Cambridge. Two mathematicians rejected him. Only one said yes, his name was G.H. hardy.

I Beg To Introduce Myself

In his letter, Ramanujan introduced himself as a clerk working in the Madras Port of Trust on a modest salary. He said that he did not have university education but was creating a new path for himself. Wrote that he was poor and could not publish his work. Along with this letter, he also sent 50 theorems he had written. In one place, he also argued about the research that Hardy had written in Cambridge three years ago. The first time Hardy read Ramanujan’s letter, he thought it was a prank. He had received many such letters earlier too, in which someone claimed that he could solve even the most difficult problem of maths. But Hardy could not get Ramanujan’s letter out of his mind.

He had never seen anything like Ramanujan’s theorem, even he haven’t imagined anything like it. The letter kept bothering him all day, so he decided to show it to his best friend John Littlewood. That night, they continued to read Ramanujan’s theorem for three hours.

Hardy realized that this was the most amazing letter ever that made him think. He said that Ramanujan’s theorem had left him with no words to speak anything. According to Hardy, one could look at those theorems to suggest that the genius who wrote them was a mathematician who was Extra Ordinary and Bilateral Originals. Hardy was convinced that Ramanujan was not a cheater as it was impossible for a common man to imagine such a theorem.

Hardy showed Ramanujan’s letter to all his colleagues at Trinity College. He also wrote a letter to the Indian office in London that he wished Ramanujan to be called to Cambridge.

Of course Hardy also responded to Ramanujan’s letter. He wrote, “Sir, I found your theorem quite interesting. I would like to see more of your work as soon as possible”. Now when Ramanujan got the support of Hardy, British officers started taking him seriously. Ramanujan still did not have a degree but the Chancellor of Madras University made some changes in the rules for him. He offered him a research scholarship in the Presidency College. For this, he was given 75 rupees a month.

Ramanujan refused the invitation to come to Cambridge. He was a devoted Hindu Brahmin and wanted to maintain the tradition of not going abroad. This annoyed Hardy a bit, but he still wanted to call Ramanujan to Cambridge. For this Hardy sought help from his friend. EH Neville was to deliver a lecture in Madras but Hardy gave him another mission which was to somehow persuade Ramanujan to come to England.

When Ramanujan replied to Hardy’s letter, he wrote that “I have found a friend in you who appreciates my work”. Hardy himself was a famous mathematician. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society. Only because of him, Ramanujan was given a permanent job due to which he was able to support his family. One day, Ramanujan saw something in the Namakkal temple in dream, after which he was convinced that he must go abroad once. In March 1914 he set out to meet Hardy.

Ramanujan’s Spring

It was spring when Ramanujan went to Cambridge. Many beautiful flowers bloom in that lovely season. He was given a place to stay in campus. He started working with Hardy and Littlewood. Ramanujan said that both of them were very kind and helpful towards him. There is a great saying that “When in Rome do as the Romans do”, so Ramanujan also started wearing western clothes, but he used to wear Indian slippers only. He used to say that shoes hurt his feet. Ramanujan showed about 3,000 theorems to Hardy and Littlewood, which he had wrote in the last ten years.

Hardy said that some of them were wrong, some had already been discovered by many mathematicians but 2/3 of them were extra-ordinary that could surprise anyone. After working a few months with Ramanujan, Hardy and Littlewood felt that they had just seen a glimpse of Ramanujan’s potential, he was like a sea, which was full of knowledge. Hardy even went so far as to say that he had not seen a mathematician like Ramanujan’s skill till date, and that he could only be compared to geniuses such as Euler and Jacobi.

Hardy once wrote, “Ramanujan was my discovery, but I have not made him, he made himself.” Hardy was happy that he was able to find the diamond like Ramanujan. He himself would edit the manuscript of Ramanujan and send it to be published. Ramanujan’s genius work was published in 1914. Hardy immediately shared it with his friends at the London Mathematical Society. Ramanujan’s first paper was titled “Modular Equations and Approximations to Pi”. After all, Ramanujan came to be known as a member of Cambridge’s highly intelligent community. There were many geniuses who understood him and recognized the potential of his work.

By 1915, 9 papers of Ramanujan had been published. Indian students loved him a lot. He was known as the genius of Maths, Britisher’s had applied all their ways to summon Ramanujan to Cambridge.

Sometimes Ramanujan used to visit London’s Zoo or the British Museum. A comedy play called “Charley’s Aunt”, which he loved very much, was about the undergraduate life of the college. It was so funny that Ramanujan’s eyes would burst into tears.

To become a research student in Cambridge, it was necessary to have a university degree, but the people there had given some relaxation especially for the Ramanujan. Authorities in Madras had extended his scholarship for another two years. An officer had already guessed that Ramanujan would one day become a fellow of Trinity College.

Ramanujan used to get 250 pounds every year as a scholarship from Madras. With this, he used to get 60 pounds every year from Cambridge, 50 pounds of which he used to send to his family. Nevertheless, he had no financial problem because he lived with great simplicity.

It was in 1916 that what Ramanujan could not achieve till now, Trinity College gave him a Bachelor of Arts degree. He got this degree through research. This was given to him for his paper on “highly composite numbers”. Finally, he posed for graduation photos with the rest of the students. Ramanujan’s pant was a few inches short in length and his suit buttons were tight, but now finally he became Ramanujan BA pass, from just Ramanujan.


Ramanujan mostly ate alone in his room. He had a small stove on which he used to make vegetables. While Hardy and others ate food at the high table, Ramanujan preferred to eat alone. The reason for this was that he wanted to maintain his strict vegetarian diet. The British were fond of eating mutton and beef and the waiter used to serve non-veg by roaming near all the dinner table.

But Ramanujan used to get satisfaction from his sambar rice and curd. He was not fond of wandering outside. He used to feel comfortable in a group of less people than the crowd. That’s why he used to spend most of his time in his room. Hardy used to play cricket or baseball during his spare time. He was also a member of the Sunday Essay Society. Many Indian students joined the Majilis debating society, but Ramanujan used to stay away from all of them.

The winter season started, in that cold winter and during World War I Ramanujan started to miss home. He was missing the tradition and culture of his country, among whom he had grown up. But most of all he was missing his wife and he was longing for his mother’s pampering.

 Situation became more difficult for Ramanujan in 1917. He had tuberculosis due to which he had to stay in the hospital for several months. Doctors said the reason for this was lack of food and nutrition, which was quite spread in Europe at that time.

All this became more painful for him when he did not get any letter from his house for several months. No letter came from his mother or Janaki either. Later it was found that his mother was blocking his letter. Neither did she let Janaki read Ramanujan’s letter and neither did she send her letter to Ramanujan. She told Janaki that her letters were very childish and stupid.

Ramanujan wanted Janaki to come to Cambridge but his mother did not allow her to go. Janaki was upset with her mother-in-law’s behavior. Then she got a chance to escape from there for her brother’s wedding. Janaki did not return to her in-laws for long. Ramanujan was very worried. He was very sad due to not receiving any news from his home.

Tuberculosis was having a profound effect on his body and this concern for his family was showing a profound effect on his mind. He had become very weak and his weight was falling. He needed to eat nutritious and healthy. But in spite of all this, he remained adamant that he would not eat anything other than vegetarian food. The year of 1917 was a very difficult time for him. There was war in the world, disease surrounded him, there was no news from the family and he became completely lonely and desperate in the bitter winter.

All this had a profound effect on the mind and heart of Ramanujan and in January 1918, he tried to kill himself. He had jumped on the railway tracks and a train was moving towards him from the front.

It was a miracle that a guard saw him and pulled the switch in time. The train stopped a few feet in front of him. Ramanujan did not die but was hurt in many places. Then he was taken to the police station. Hardy arrived to take him from there. He requested the inspector not to lock Ramanujan in jail.

To save him, Hardy lied that just like him, Ramanujan was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Perhaps the Fellow of the Royal Society could not be arrested so easily, so the police found out and found that in fact Ramanujan was a renowned mathematician. So they decided to leave him.

A month after this incident, Hardy’s uttered lies turned into reality. Ramanujan could not believe it. He read the letter three times. That year, only 15 people were selected out of 104 candidates to become a Fellow of the Royal Society. Ramanujan was one of them. In May 1917, Ramanujan became the official S. Ramanujan, F.R.S.


After the war ended, Ramanujan started preparing to return home. Hardy and the doctors suggested that it would be better for Ramanujan’s health to return home. Meanwhile, the Indian Mathematical Society was celebrating his success. They honored him for the great achievement of his FRS. The news of his homecoming was printed on the front page of the Society Journal.

In March 1919, Ramanujan arrived in Mumbai. There his mother and his younger brother were waiting for him at the dock. From there, they boarded a ship to go to Madras. Ramanujan met his wife and other family members in Madras. Janaki had turned 18 then.

Ramanujan received an offer to become a professor at Madras University. But his health was getting worse day by day. He started saying that he would not be able to live beyond the age of 35 and soon their breath would stop. Janaki took great care of him. She stood with him till the end.

One day, Ramanujan was complaining of severe stomach ache. His body dried up and became a bone structure. Ramanujan breathed his last on April 26, 1920. At the age of 32, he left the world.

Hardy was deeply shocked by the news of Ramanujan’s death. Even after twenty years, he remembered his time with Ramanujan with the same respect and sentiment. He always insisted that Ramanujan was a self-made man.


So in this book you learned about Srinivasa Ramanujan. You learned about his struggle and his dreams. To get a big success, he also has to face failure and Ramanujan was not untouched by this, he failed many times but in the end he emerged as a successful man. He was not a perfect person but he spent his whole life in following his passion. He always had only one wish, to know more and more about Maths.

The education system of his time was strict, many people also misunderstood him. Only a few people could see the sparkle of this diamond. Some people even considered him crazy but no one could ever hold back his genius mind. In his short life, he made a big contribution in the field of knowledge through what he loved. Everyone believes that Ramanujan’s efforts will never go in vain. Every Indian is proud of him and he is an inspiration to all of us.

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