For a conventionally non-mathematics person, watching “The Man Who Knew Infinity” was itself a challenge. The movie based on the life of Srinivas Ramanujan, the great Indian Mathematician, was part of the boy’s holiday assignment and it spilled over to being a family watch.
Ramanujan was born on 22 December, 1887 (his birthday is celebrated every year as National Mathematics Day). It was the time when India reeled under the British Empire and trailed far behind Europe and the other nations. That Indians were considered second-class citizens is not a fact less known. Several talented young men and women never reached the pinnacle of their talents or geniuses in an environment that exuded and supported hegemonic interests.
Ramanujan was one such man of extraordinary brilliance who, after growing up in poverty in Madras found his way to Cambridge University at the time of World War I. His exceptional skills at mathematics made him seem of interest to G H Hardy, a leading mathematician himself, who decided to test his resolve as well as his ability. Hardy became Ramanujan’s mentor and his life-long friend in the five years at Cambridge and it was his liberal and tenacious stand as well as his priceless friendship that helped the latter receive the Trinity as well as the Royal Fellowship.
The movie traces the journey of the genius at Cambridge. As the life of Ramanujan unfolds, one is made privy to the hustle and bustle of a restless mind. The assiduousness and constant persistence, the mindless craving to discover and the ability to see an equation as a “thought of God”.
The brave are posed with greater challenges than the ordinary can ever hope to face, and Ramanujan’s journey at Cambridge is no different. Racism and discrimination often raise their ugly heads and it is then that the liberalism of Hardy, Littlewood and Bertrand Russell help the world see the brilliance of young Ramanujan.
However, his struggles do not just end here. Diagnosed with Tuberculosis, Srinivas finds it hard to buy time for his work. But there is something that keeps him going. Hardy, of course, always has his back.
The movie is well-paced and makes you pray for Ramanujan. You want him to succeed, you want the tuberculosis to go away, you want the war to end, you want to stomp over all the discrimination, the hegemony, the be all end all attitude. There’s a roller coaster of emotions and when you know that the man died all of thirty-two, you wonder why!
The ideas created by Srinivas Ramanujan a century ago are finding their application today, one significant being the black hole physics. As he says in the movie, he didn’t want all of it to go away with him. And we are glad he was guided to leave it all behind to be used years later. But at the same time, you are also forced to think, what if he had stayed!
The movie, which came in the year 2015, stars Dev Patel in the lead role and is based on the book of the same name written in 1991 by Robert Kanigel.