| Sarjit Kaur | Roti for the Soul | Asia Samachar | 23 Aug 2016 |
The Man who knew Infinity is based on a 1991 book by Robert Kanigel and premised on a true story. Set during World War 1, it stars Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire as the real life Srivinasa Ramanujan. His life story is as inspiring, as it is tragic.
From Madras to Cambridge
Ramanujan, a young man from Madras writes to Prof Hardy on his mathematical theorems. Prof Hardy, a widely acknowledged English mathematician of his time, was impressed with his work. He arranged for Ramanujan to sail to England, leaving behind his newly married wife and mother. Ramanujan sets foot in Trinity College in Cambridge with a strong desire for his work to be published.
His journey was a challenging one; he was in a foreign land; he faced racial issues and non-believers in his ability. The ongoing war also necessitated food rationing. His only food for the soul was his theorems and communication with family back home. Despite all odds, he rose above the challenge. He was nurtured and mentored to greatness and eventually presented his unique gift to the world.
The film was premiered at the International Film Festival in Toronto, Zurich, Singapore and Dubai. Given its central theme, it engaged distinguished mathematicians Manjul Bhargava and Ken Ono as Associate Producers of the film. The film has been praised by mathematicians and scientists for its authentic portrayal of theoretical maths. It also projects a moving relationship between a student and his mentor. A meeting of two culturally different yet mathematically connected minds. It shows how faith and passion help overcome the challenges in life.
Ramanujan had the extraordinary ability of coming up with complex and ground breaking maths concepts despite not having proper training in the subject. He accepted his remarkable talent as a gift from God. His maths theory suggests that everything adds up. He would regularly minimise 12 steps of logic into 2! Hardy decided he should go through the formal education and training to prepare for the academic world that he must deal with. Through these two minds, the audience is taken on an enchanted number-journey!
Challenges and Faith
His Madras phase is portrayed briskly, with the main story dealing with his life in England. Ramanujan’s wife, Devika Bhise, while not prepared to let him go, felt he must follow his dream. He was to take her to England, once he stabilises. However this desire was never fulfilled due to a sad family twist, known to both of them much later.
While impressed by his genius, Hardy insists that Ramanujan supply proofs for his work or a reconstruction of his findings. To Hardy’s mind, math theorem isn’t pulled from thin air. Ramanujan, on the other hand, couldn’t comprehend the need for evidences, given his awareness and intuition on its origination – its source. He was hopeful to get his work published in time and didn’t want the theorems to die with him. He wanted to present this divine theory to the world. He also understood that Hardy who is an atheist will never appreciate this fact.
One Romantic Incident
Prof Hardy was a confirmed bachelor who devoted all his life to maths. He is portrayed as a tough individual with little show of emotions. However, over time, his interaction with Ramanujan changed his demeanour. He visited Ramanujan during his period of illness and showed compassion and kindness. He described their collaboration as – the one romantic incident in his life!
The mathematical romanticism rubbed off on the number – 1729, which played a central role in the story. Hardy remembers taking a taxi cab number 1729 to visit Ramanujan. While Hardy said the number seemed dull, Ramanujan revealed its splendour – the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways. And they both add up perfectly.
What he meant was:
1729 = 1³+ 12³
As Hardy gradually opened up, Ramanujan confessed the source of his ground breaking theorems. He explained that God speaks to him. He would have these numbers inscribed in his dreams and would document them the following morning. The source of his theorems came from our Creator. Hence, he couldn’t comprehend the need to prove them. Who are we to question God? – was his notion.
Happy and Sad Moments
Ramanujan’s isolation from his family, grizzly English climate, vegetarian diet which was not easily accommodated and intensity of work eventually took a toll on him and within seven years of leaving India he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Ramanujan eventually gets his work published and was accepted as an FRCS fellow. It was a proud moment for him and Hardy, however by then his health had taken a dive.
Ramanujan developed theories that was several decades ahead of his time, yielding results of interest to mathematicians even today. He just didn’t live long enough to publish all of them. He returned to India in 1919, still frail, and died the following year, aged only 32. Something he predicted early on in his life.
Are Men Inventors or Explorers of Infinity?
In his memorial speech for Ramanujan, the audience sees the transformation in Prof Hardy, the atheist he was, when he accepted Ramanujan’s explanation for his theorems. Hardy in his wisdom, said that mathematics was never invented by men. It was always there, and the enlightened ones would discover these theorems, already present in the universe. He affirmed that, “We are merely explorers of infinity. Infinity was never our invention”.
The message in the movie brought some reflection to the table. I had certain questions of my own and sought to research them. The more I sought, the more information I found. The work of other math experts came to light.
Is God a Mathematician?
In his book entitled, Is God a Mathematician?, Mario Livio delves into this question. Does mathematics hold the key to understanding the mysteries of the physical world? Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered? His story of math starts in ancient Greece, with Pythagoras and followers searching for the ‘cosmic order’ in numbers and ratios. They believed that numbers describe a world whose order exists and humans are privileged to discover that order.
The Golden Ratio
In another book by Mario entitled: The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number, he explains that historically there has been a mysterious relationship between numbers and nature of reality. Mario tells the tale of a number, at the heart of that mystery which is Phi or 1.618.
This mathematical relationship widely known as The Golden Ratio or Divine Proportion, was discovered more than 2,000 years ago and played a crucial role in guiding the construction of Pyramids by ancient Babylonians. Poets and composers have used the Phi in their works and it was also featured in works of art from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Phi is present all around us, where subject matters rests in the proportion above. Its amazing functionality in Mother Nature such as in mollusc shells, sunflower florets, rose petals and even the transcending galaxy suggests its importance as a fundamental characteristic of the Universe. Again, inferencing that our Creator is a mathematician, among others.
In this movie, the divine mathematician is not Ramanujan nor Hardy. And Ramanujan knew that. He knew what Infinity represents. And where it originated. Everything comes from Him. Everything is a gift from Him. As the notion goes: Seek and you shall find. He sought. And he found.
Dr Michio Kaku, an author and American professor of theoretical physics, said that the mind of God is cosmic music; the music of strings resonating through dimensional space.
Water, earth and the nether world are filled with these species. A specie may become extinct where it may be replaced or move to another planet. However, the creation and destruction of these species keep them in balance, all the time. God works in such precision!
We watched the Ramanujan movie in the good old Shaw Theatre in Singapore during our trip there. On the way home, we visited Johor Premium Outlet where Swatch was having a sale. One silver ring attracted me, a combination of matte and shine intertwining each other. I couldn’t resist its aesthetics and 70% bargain. Not that I intended to fantasise as – The Lord of the Ring!
Later that day, my daughter asked to see the ring. What she said got me speechless. I looked at the ring in wonderment. Her words rang in my ears – “It has the shape of infinity, Mum”. The infinity symbol just stared at my face.
We are Infinitely One
Our attraction to the cosmic energy is so compelling! Our thoughts can create our reality. If only we open ourselves up to the cosmic path that is just waiting to take us on that divine journey. Seek and you will find.
Ramanujan knew infinity. He knew that God is infinite. His creations are infinite. In the final analysis, we are infinitely One.
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