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When A Teacher Learned From His Student

Sep 5, 2020 2 comments
teacher's day india 2020 ramanujan hardy friendship

This is a special post about the relationship between a renowned student-and-teacher duo. They are Srinivasa Ramanujan and G.H. Hardy, respectively, two of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century.

The lesson to learn here is that students are more "bindaas" meaning that they find hope when there's none...They discover joy even in the darkest of moments. Teachers, on the other hand, more generally, adults, take themselves and life too seriously.

Hardy went to see Ramanujan in a hospital, who was terminally ill, due to tuberculosis. Since they were both mathematicians, they used to quip about numbers and letters.

Hardy, depressed over the fact that his dear student was going to die soon, remarked, that the taxi he had ridden in had a rather dull and ominous number...

"No sir!" A weak Ramanujan, replied. "It is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."

Hardy couldn't help but smile.

The number happened to be 1729 which can be written in the following two ways:

1729 = 1³ + 12³

1729 = 9³ + 10³

Such numbers were named Hardy-Ramanujan numbers in the honor of their relationship. They are more commonly called taxicab numbers in pure mathematics.

There is a scene in the film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, in which Dev Patel, who plays Ramanujan says, "I owe you so much." Professor Hardy, played by Jeremy Irons, looks him in the eye. "No, it is I who owes you!"


  1. This prompting of 1729 as 1728 + 1 or 1000 + 729, which is the smallest number which can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two ways, was by the guardian saint Upendra Theertha, on whose day 22 12 1887 Ramanujam was born. The Saint passed away in 1728 after being head of a Madhwa monastery for 3 years, being a cube of years and is buried in Srirangam with dimensions of 1728 cubic foot


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