Saturday, April 26, 2014
You may not be able to make out what the numbers mean, but that's nothing to be worried about. Even as great a mathematician as G.H. Hardy, who specialized in number theory, was not a numbers man. In that way, he was unlike Srinivasa Ramanujan, for whom numbers were his "personal friends". There is a story about Hardy visiting a very ill Ramanujan at Putney; getting into the room, Hardy mentioned that he had travelled in taxicab number 1729, which seemed to him a "rather dull number". Ramanujan, however, was instantly animated. "No, no, not at all", he said. "It is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways".
Since then, such numbers have been known as 'Taxicab Numbers'; you can head out here to see some of them, as well as a picture of.... well, something like taxicab number 1729. The story however is just one more example of how the man was completely un-fathomable, even for those who knew what he was talking about. What could he have achieved if he had lived longer than he actually did?
Ramanujan passed into immortality this day in 1920. And yet, there are many who still don't know about him, or what he did. We go past all these mentions about the greatest mathematician of modern India with reverence, because it is too taxing to try and figure out what was it that he did. This day is marked with special events by the Ramanujan museum in Chennai. I haven't been there yet, but for today, this bust of Ramanujan at the IIT Madras should remind us of his memory!