There are two things having a surname like Ramanujan can do to you. A) It can radio-tag your origins to a particular geographical region in India (familiar to most Indians and which my fairly ambiguous Sanskrit derived first name does not) and B) It can make people (again at least a lot of Indians and others who have a slightly more in-depth introduction to mathematics) go “Oh! Are you by any chance related to Srinivasa Ramanujan?” Answering “Yes, I am his daughter!” does not help even though I am the daughter of a Srinivasa Ramanujan, albeit a different one from the renowned mathematician. The answer that I use more often is a more polite version of “You don’t think anyone with a surname of Gandhi is related to M K Gandhi, do you?” or thereabouts.
My mathematical skills are nondescript to a great extent (and some would say nonexistent but I would contest that). Mathematics was not my greatest foe at school (the privilege belonged to another enemy), more a misunderstood and incompatible companion. I could not, like most others, (who have an aversion to the subject) heave a sigh of relief on ditching mathematics after high school. I continued to have to live with it for another three years (scratching the surface of nightmarish landscapes like triple integrals- (I must say I liked the wavy signs though)). Being a physics major in under graduation makes you do things like that to yourself- self inflicted psychological damage I believe is the technical term they apply to such situations. I struggled with it for a couple of more years at my post graduation pondering such mysteries as Multivariate analysis and wondering what the heck things like Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) meant (what? me? elitist? Atleast I’m not quoting Alexis de Tocqueville who according to Joel Stein is a must in all elitist conversations/ musings More here).
I did smile, however, on the days when my assignments were limited to essays on realist theories of international relations. No funny mathematical equations there though there is no knowing when a math fanatic (aka mad max) would include a pesky equation in even the most wordy piece of work.
This is not to say that math skills in my family were meagre. My grandfather (whom I have written about previously in my blog) could weave through math as much with ease as with any other science. And my grand uncle C T Rajagopal was actually a famous mathematician and also the first director of the Ramanujan Institute of Sciences.
So I surprised myself the other day when on hearing a news item on the BBC about someone being imprisoned in a certain very famous prison since the age of 15 and now having spent a third of their life in prison, I started constructing an equation (unsuccessfully I must add- though I completely blame the BBC for not giving the correct information) to find out how old he must be now. Even better (or worse) was the fact that I felt a real urge to read these two books (The Number Mysteries and Here’s looking at Euclid).
I wonder if I’d be any more pals with mad max this time around? I guess its worth a try (or not!)
Anyway my whole post was in the current theme of the International Congress of Mathematicians taking place at Hyderabad right now. Definitely not on my to-do list for now.
Link on my granduncle C T Rajagopal
Link on my grandfather CT Krishnama Chari
Wikipedia link for the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan
Link on my father M S Srinivasa Ramanujan