Excerpts from the book ‘Ignited Minds‘ Written By A.P.J. Abdul Kalamji

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. —Goethe

The great minds of the country had the ability to make others join their endeavour to convert dreams into reality. For them, the nation was bigger than themselves and they could draw thousands to act upon their dreams.

In December 2000, I had participated in the birth centenary celebrations of Adhyapaka Rathna T. Totadri Iyengar. I graduated in science from St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli (1954). As a young student I saw Prof. T. Totadri Iyengar–a unique, divine-looking personality–walking through the college campus every morning and teaching mathematics to the students of B.Sc. (Honours) and M.Sc. The students looked at him with awe as one would at a guru, which indeed he was. When he walked, knowledge radiated all around. At that time, ‘Calculus’ Srinivasan was my mathematics teacher. He used to talk about Prof. Totadri Iyengar with deep respect and would organize integrated classes for first year B.Sc. (Honours) and first year B.Sc. (Physics) to be taught by him. I also had the opportunity to attend some of these classes, particularly on the subjects of modern algebra and statistics. When we were in first year B.Sc., ‘Calculus’ Srinivasan used to pick the top ten students as members of the Mathematics Club of St Joseph’s where Prof. Totadri Iyengar used to give a lecture series.

One day, in 1952, he gave a lecture on ancient mathematicians and astronomers of India. He spoke for nearly one hour. The lecture still rings in my ears. Let me share with you my thoughts about some ancient mathematicians, glimpses of whom I saw in Prof. Totadri Iyengar in my own way.

Aryabhata, born in AD 476 in Kusumapura (now called Patna), was an astronomer and mathematician. He was reputed to be a repository of all the mathematical knowledge known at that point of time. He was only twenty-three years old when he wrote Aryabhatiyam in two parts. The text covers arithmetic, algebra and trigonometry and, of course, astronomy. He gave formulae for the areas of a triangle and a circle and attempted to give the volumes of a sphere and a pyramid. He was the first to give an approximation to pi as the ratio of a circle’s circumference and diameter, arriving at the value of 3.1416. To celebrate this great astronomer, India named its first satellite launched in 1975 Aryabhata. Brahmagupta was born in AD 598 at Billamala in Rajasthan in the empire of Harsha. He wrote the Brahma Sphuta Siddhanta at the age of thirty. He updated works of astronomy. He covered progressions and geometry. He also studied and gave what is known as the solution of indeterminate equations of different degrees as well as solutions to quadratic equations.

Bhaskaracharya was another unique intellectual of his time. He was born in AD 1114 at Vijjalbada, located at what is now the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra. He wrote the famous Siddhanthasiromani in four chapters. He dealt with astronomy and algebra and is known to be the first recognized mathematician who evolved value to zero from the concept based on Aryabhata’s discovery. To honour him, ISRO’s second series of satellites was named Bhaskara I and II (1979 and 1981).

The work of these three mathematicians of India provides the context of Albert Einstein’s remark that ‘We owe a lot to the Indians who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.’

Then comes to my mind the greatest of all geniuses ever known and acknowledged, and who lived within our present memory– Srinivasa Ramanujan. He lived only for thirty- three years (1887—1920) and had no practical formal education or means of living. Yet, his inexhaustible spirit and love for his subject enabled him to make a vast contribution to mathematical research and some of his contributions are still under serious study, engaging the efforts of mathematicians to establish formal proofs. Ramanujan was a unique Indian genius who could melt the heart of as rigorous a mathematician as Prof. G.H. Hardy of Trinity College, Cambridge. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that it was Hardy who discovered Ramanujan for the world. Why do not our reputed scientists locate another Ramanujan in our schools? Oh my friends why don’t you in every field integrate and grow instead of differentiating!

‘Every integer is a personal friend of Ramanujan,’ one of the tributes to Ramanujan said and it was no exaggeration. Prof. Hardy, while rating geniuses on a scale of 100, put most of them in the range of around 30, giving a rating of 60 to the rare exception. However, for Ramanujan, he suggested, only the value of 100 would fit. There can be no better tribute to either Ramanujan or to the Indian heritage. Ramanujan’s work covers vast areas including prime numbers, hyper geometric series, modular functions, elliptic functions, mock theta functions, even magic squares, apart from some serious work on the geometry of ellipses, squaring the circle and so on.

I hope that eminent teachers who teach and inspire the young students of mathematics will continue their unmatched and noble services in the years to come, thus ensuring the march of Indian brilliance in this field. Prof. S. Chandrasekhar, the astrophysicist, continued the Indian mathematics tradition in his work abroad. Of course mathematics is universal. Now the tradition will further blossom with the efforts of Prof. C.S. Seshadri, Prof. J.V. Narlikar, Prof. M.S. Narasimhan, Prof. S.R.S. Varadhan, Prof. M.S. Raghunathan, Prof. Narender Karmakar and Prof. Ashok Sen, among others.