What is in a number?
There is always a fascination with numbers we are associated with, especially one’s birth date numbers. We look for ‘lucky’ numbers into our roll numbers in class, the number on the hall ticket, numbers on our addresses and telephones – (though today’s ten digit numbers leave me fatigued, with trying to memorise them in the right order).
Mathematicians find intriguing mysteries and even romance in all numbers. One of our friends is a Professor in Maths, and can do all sorts of sums and calculations in his head. He is totally engrossed in his subject. I once asked him what he did for relaxation. He said “I read books.” “Oh, what books, fiction, or non-fiction?” I asked. He answered, “Books on Maths”.
Car number plates are endlessly fascinating. When we travel by road, while the rest of the family looks at the make of the car and records the speed it is travelling at, I look at the number plates, and invariably end up adding the digits.
I am not alone in this interest in number plates. One of my favourite stories is that of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and his mentor G. H. Hardy. Ramanujan, ill equipped to cope with the vagaries of the inclement British weather, fell ill in England. Hardy visited him in hospital, taking a ride in a taxicab. The number of the taxi was, according to Hardy, uninteresting – 1729. Ramanujan disagreed with him and said that it was on the other hand a very interesting number. “It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."
To most laymen (including me) this would be Greek and Latin, but to those number lovers it was sheer poetry. I can only imagine the following minutes when the two would have discussed and dissected the magic of the number.
"Every positive integer is one of Ramanujan's personal friends.", said J. E. Littlewood, Hardy’s collaborator, after hearing this incident.
This morning I received a mail from Indiblogger, saying that my blog was ranked 77th. The ranking did not affect me one way or the other, but the number did. I was tickled, because it was my roll number in college, and later my son’s rank in the Joint Entrance exam of the IIT.
You can see the widget here on the right side. However, I was happy to see Maiji outranked me - her blog is ranked 58th!