Sri K.S. Viswanatha Satri, a lawyer gives among his reminiscenses the interesting experience he had when he took private tuition in Mathematics from Ramanujan.



It was in the year 1908, when I was in the Kumbakonam College in the Junior F.A. class, I came in to contact with S. Ramanujan. Having passed out of the Town High School, Kumbakonam, he joined the Kumbakonam College but soon had to leave it owing to financial troubles. It was then he sought my father late Rao Sahib Sivakumara Sastriar’s help when the latter was Assistant Professor of Philosophy, taking English composition classes for the F.A. class. Though highly proficient in mathematics and was highly appreciated by professors like K.S. Patrachariar, and thus mentioned to my father by him, my father to his regret found Ramanujan quite ordinary in his English composition classes. This, Ramanujan had told me, was due to his lack of interest in English. He would clear off mathematics question papers very quickly in a surprisingly small number of pages to the amazement of the examiner.


My father, however, was kind enough to put Ramanujan on to my tuition in mathematics for about Rs.7 a month. He used to go to my residence at Solaiappa Mudali Street every morning from his house in Sri Sarangapani Swami Sannidhi Street and teach me Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. He was not like an ordinary tutor guiding one step by step but being precocious, he would carry me off to the regions of Calculus and show me the dizzy heights to which his mind flew. One peculiar feature with him was his utter originality in solving problems so that when I forgot the solution of anyone, once solved by him, and asked for this assistance he used to give me an easier method different from what he gave me first. It was thus his mind was original in the attack of problems. That way he was amazing to me. His association was ever inspiring to me. I had the good fortune of having his tutorship for about two years after which I came to the Presidency College, Madras, taking residence in the Victoria Hostel.



During his tutorship at Kumbakonam, his marriage took place and he was very jubilant over it. He was a man of good girth, very healthy, and of good complexion. He was a man of few words, rather shy. He never wore a shirt but covered his body with a fairly big cloth. He was well known among the student population, was ever resorted to by them during the examination period. He would be instructing the students on the sands of the Cauvery in solving problems likely to appear in the examination.



Mr. Ganapathy Subba Aiyar, the well known Mathemtics teacher in the Town High School, Kumbakonam, was his admirer and Ramanujan was greatly attached to him. Mr. Satyapuri Rao, the great gymanstic instructor of the Town High School, was his particular friend and it was a familiar sight to see Ramanujan standing as Mr. Satyapuri Rao’s solitary friend, when Satyapuri was delivering his frenzied address after the Cauvery bath, standing in the hot sun. To many, this conduct of Ramanujan was utterly strange, and even led people to misjudge him. To my queries to Ramanujan as to how he stood Satyaprui’s torrential eloquence, which to us was a mad man’s frenzy, Ramanujan used to tell me that in such frenzies, there were many flashes which he only could discern. This association of Ramanujan with Mr. Satyapuri Rao led to a misunderstanding as to Ramanujan’s brain power. But, Ramanujan said he never cared for what people thought about this. This way Ramanujan suffered a good deal in general public estimation but those who knew Ramanujan never thought ill of this. But such were few. And this led to a tardy recognition of Ramanujan’s powers by the public at large.



I moved to Madras in the beginning of 1910 to join the Presidency College, and took my lodging in the Victoria Hostel. Very soon after, Ramanujan himself, came to Madras in search of employment. He went over to me straight and stayed with me as my mate. His purpose was to get employed as a tutor in Mathematics to students and thus eke out his livelihood. His shyness stood in the way of his going about seeing people for the purpose, but luckily for him there were many Kumbakonians here who were his friends ready to help him. He went about every morning to see friends and get tutorship. But he was not quite successful. For many days, he was my guest in the hostel. During nights, he used to bemoan his wretched condition in life and when I encouraged him by saying that being endowed with a valuable gift he need not be sorry but only had to wait for recognition, he would reply that many a great man like Galileo died in inquisition and his lot would be to die in poverty. But I continued to encourage him by telling him that God, who is great, would surely help him and he ought not to give way to sorrow.



For sometime he took up lodging at Summer House in Swamy Pillai Street, in Triplicane and was messing in a hotel. During this period, he paid his respects to Sri Singaravelu Mudaliar, Professor of Mathematics, Pachiappa’s College, Madras, his old professor and admirer. Many a time Mr. Mudaliar impressed upon him the futility of seeking recognition of his Mathematical work in this part of the country and advised him to communicate himself directly to professors at Cambridge where he would receive great help. Such was also the advice given to him by Sri Bhavaniswamy Rao, his intimate professor at Kumbakonam College, who was later Principal, Madras-I-Azam. He wrote out his theories clearly at Summer House to be sent to Cambridge. Meanwhile, he got a clerical job in the Madras Port Trust with the help of Sri Narayana Iyer. When Ramanujan was granted a research shcolarship of Rs.75 a month by the University of Madras, he took up lodging at Thope Venkatachala Mudali Street, Triplicane and brought his mother and others there to live with him.



Every arrangement for Ramanujan’s going to England was attended to and looked after by Mr. Arthur Davies and Mr. Littlehailes. His passage to England was booked by steamer ‘Nevasa’, which then came to Madras. Everything was got ready for his voyage. Ramanujan looked trim in his newly cropped up head and his close fitting trousers and coat. Many came to see him off in the harbour. The Director of Public Instruction, Mr. J.H. Stone came to see him and wished him all success and told Ramanujan that he had written to his friends in England, Mr. Berryman and others who would take care of him. The captain of the ship came down to cheer up Ramanujan and told him that he would take every care of him in the voyage provided he did not pester him with his mathematics. Ramanujan was in tears, throughout, being quite new to the trip. A salvation army gentleman, travelling with him, cheered him up and said he would take care of him during the journey as he was himself going as far as Southampton. I was myself present in the steamer. The steamer left Madras at about 10 a.m. and everybody wished him success. I got a letter from Ramanujan from Port Said, the stamp on the envelope bearing the figure of the pyramids.



On his return to India, Sri Ramachandra Rao, myself and others received him at the Madras Central Station where he arrived by the Bombay Mail, his mother and brother arriving with him from Bombay where they had gone to escort him. Ramanujan was almost a wreck in health. He was taken to Edward Elliots Road for halt in a bungalow belonging to Sri Adinarayana Chetty, a barrister, from the station in a jutka, myself following behind on my cycle. When I saw him there, he was just taking his meal with curds and Sambar (spiced vegetable soup). Taking a few morsels, he exclaimed to me, “If I had had this in England, I would not have had any illness”. My father, too, visited him at this place.



The one notable feature about Ramanujan was that his pursuit of mathematics was a pursuit after God. He very often used to say that in Mathematics alone, one can have a concerete realisation of God. , he used to ask, “what is its value?” His answer was ‘It may be anyting. The zero of the numerator may be several times the zero of denominator and vice versa. The value cannot be determined. In the same way, will denote the primordial God and several divinites. When n is zero the expression denotes zero, there is nothing ; when is 1 , the expression denotes unity, the Infinite God. When is 2, the expression denotes Trinity; when is 3, the expression denotes 7, the Saptha Rishis and so on. Another peculiarity with him was that he was extremely supple and quick in the multiplication of figures. In multiplying two long-digited numbers, he will shortly write down the result and remove two or three figures and insert fresh ones instead instinctively and then declare the result. When asked how he could so quickly do it, he could not give any reply but would simply ask us to verify its correctness which was always true. The verification never failed. Figures and numbers stood out in life before him and this was a peculiarity. When asked about the fourth dimension, he would at once say the admission of the fourth would lead to the admission of the nth dimension. Another peculiarity with him was that in talking about the height of a wall of so many feet, he used to observe that the measurement was not absolute but only relative. No body knows how high it appears to an ant or a buffalo. In the Illustrated Weekly of India, there appeared a peculiarly coloured upholstered hall as it appeared to a dog’s eye. The, dog itself was represented sitting in the hall and viewing it. Ramanujan used to ask my father how the world was when first created with no living being. My father at once replied that his question was fallacious as it meant that some living being was alive prying to see how the beginning was. Ramanujan used to jocularly ask us this question , “Suppose we prepare a belt round the equator of the earth, the belt being feet longer, and if we put the belt round the earth, how high will it stand?” and reply, to our surprise “the belt will stand 1 foot high, a substantial height.”



Ramanujan had a peculiar gift of foretelling. Whenever we asked him about the possibility of a thing coming about, he would patiently hear our narration and say the answer the next day or so. He could tell us as to what would happen after dreaming of it and interpreting the dream. His interpretations mostly, proved true.