After having been stirred into action at the end of the movie, ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’, I came upon a wealth of information on the famous mathematician – Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) on the Wren Digital Library website hosted by Trinity College Cambridge. Here, titled, ‘File 1 – Correspondence of Ramanujan and miscellaneous correspondence relating to his life and works,’ were scanned and digitised copies of various letters. I found the one dated 19th June 1918 from Srinivasa Ramanujan to his friend Alampadi Subbaraya Ramalingam very insightful; it was written from the Matlock House sanatorium where he was convalescing. It speaks a lot about a man who despite having to suffer ill health, manages to stick to his principles of a strict dietary requirements due to his religion; it also shows a hint of humour stemming from frustration.
I present to you the scanned copy of the letter followed by the text of the letter.
The text of the letter is given below:
19th June 1918.
My dear Ramalingam,
The whole of last night I had fever and my temperature this morning was about 102°. The old cook has left this place the day before yesterday. The present cook spoiled yesterday all the அப்பளம் பூ by scorching some of them and leaving some raw (without stirring them perhaps). The curried rice was just like அக்ஷதை and as hard as uncooked rice. Yesterday I had no dinner. At least I had some breakfast and plain boiled rice before. Even these she can’t prepare properly now. And so please don’t send me anything except ஆவரக்காய், வெண்டைக்காய் and நிலக்கடலை உருண்டை. Don’t send anything to the matron with instructions or any such thing.
Did you meet Dr Ram yesterday? I redirected a letter to you yesterday. Perhaps it may be a reply from Mr Field.
(Don’t send me oil, curry powder, அப்பளம் பூ, you may give me all these things after I leave this sanatorium)
And before you ask what those squiggly lines are, they are words written in the Tamil language which was the native tongue of Srinivasa Ramanujan. Though I speak Tamil (enough to converse with my parents) , I am no good at reading or writting. So with my parents’ help, I give you the translation:
அப்பளம் பூ(Appalam poo)- Poppadums.
அக்ஷதை – Akshatai (raw rice mixed with turmeric powder used for religious rituals in India).
ஆவரக்காய் (Avarakkai)- Broad beans.
வெண்டைக்காய் (Vendakkai)- Okra or also knows as Ladies Fingers.
நிலக்கடலை உருண்டை (Nilakadalai urundai)- Snack made out of peanuts, jaggery and ghee and formed into a shape of a ball.
While I trust the translation provided by my parents, my academic mind hoped that someone else had also read through this particular letter and just an hour before I wrote this, I found this paper written by Robert Alexander Rankin (1915-2001) — ‘Ramanujan as a patient’, Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences, volume 93, numbers 2 & 3, December 1984, pages 79-100.
26th of April 2022 marked the 102nd death anniversary of Srinivasa Ramanujan.