Madras Port Trust, Narayana Iyer and Sir Francis:
After a year on Dewan Rao’s dole, Ramanujan felt the need to secure a job. This time he
had the backing of the Dewan as well as a letter of recommendation from
E W Middleton, acting Principal and Professor of Mathematics at Presidency College,
Madras. He applied for the post of a clerk at the Madras Port trust and in 1912 he finally
secured employment. His immediate superior at the Port Trust was Mr. Narayana Iyer. At
first an office manager and then chief accountant, Narayana Iyer, was the highest-ranking
Indian at the Port Trust. He had been brought in to serve at the Port Trust by Sir Francis
Spring, the head of the Port Trust. Narayana Iyer was also a mathematician and in fact
served as a treasurer of the Indian Mathematics Society for several years. It was
recognised by both Narayana Iyer and Sir Francis that they had a `diamond’ in the form
of Ramanujan, even though the `diamond’ may have been unpolished. This was also a
period when Ramanujan’s wife Janaki began living with him in Chennai.
With encouragement from Narayana Iyer and Sir Francis, Ramanujan met several English
men who he hoped would help him contact mathematicians in England. By then it had
become fairly clear that the work that Ramanujan was doing was beyond the domain of
the mathematicians in India. Among the English mathematicians that Ramanujan wrote to
seeking mathematical advice were H F Baker and E W Hobson. Both were distinguished
mathematicians and Fellows of the Royal Society, but both disappointed Ramanujan.

On the 16
th
of January 1913, Ramanujan set into motion events that changed his life
forever. He wrote yet another letter. This was addressed to the Cambridge mathematician
G H Hardy who was then thirty-five years of age and was already recognised as a
mathematician to be reckoned with.
G H Hardy
(c. MFO)
Letter from an Indian clerk to Hardy:
`Dear Sir, I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the …’ so began the letter that
Ramanujan wrote to Hardy. The envelope that contained the letter was bulky.
For along
with the letter, were enclosed papers describing the various mathematical results that
Ramanujan had discovered. The letter ended by asking Hardy for advice. Among the
many results quoted in the letter that Hardy found rather strange was the claim of having
found a function that nearly approximated the number of primes less than
x
.
There were no proofs offered and to cap it all Ramanujan was claiming to have bettered
the Prime Number Theorem (first conjectured by Legendre and then more precisely by
Gauss).
The Prime Number Theorem essentially tells one about the behaviour of the function,
which for each
x
counts the number of primes less than or equal to
x.
The theorem had
been proved independently by Hadamard and Poussin in 1896, nearly two decades
earlier.

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