17 January, 2021

Queen Of Cube Roots

Some close encounters with a numerical speedster

Queen Of Cube Roots

When Srinivasa Ramanujan, the Indian mathematical genius and autodidact, was lying ill in England in the early 1900s, G.H. Hardy, the famous British mathematician, had gone to visit him. Of that meeting, Hardy was to write later: “I remember I had ridden in a taxicab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavourable omen.”

“No,” replied Ramanujan, “it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.” In fact, the number has now come to be known as the Hardy-Ramanujan number, after this numerical exchange between Hardy the atheist and Ramanujan the believer in the Namagiri Devi of Namakkal.

Never mind what that means to us lesser mortals, because, on a much lesser scale, when I first met the recently deceased Shakuntala Devi, she was not only full of health but had advertised in a local newspaper in Calcutta that she was looking for a person to share a paying guest accommodation. “Gender no...



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