14th Nov. 2018
For Muslims, it’s Mecca. For Christians, Vatican. For Hindu, maybe Kashi, Haridwar or other places. For us, it was Kumbakonam.
The 24 pilgrims of Ramanujan Yatra, today is a day that all of us will remember for the rest of our lifetime. We had the great fortune to be at the Town High School in Kumbakonam where the great Srinivasa Ramanujan studied. The great feeling started as we set our foot on the holy ground. We were received with a lot of love by the Headmistress and the Mathematics teachers. Being Nov 14th, they had a cultural show by 6th and 7th graders which we were going to witness. But before that, they just announced that I will be hoisting the National Flag and inaugurating today’s event. I was stunned for a moment but then overjoyed with the thought that I would get the opportunity to hoist the flag in none other than the Hero’s school! Following the flag hoisting they honoured Yogesh and me with a shawl and a photo of Ramanujan. Our joy knew no bounds and the feeling was simply amazing. Then we placed a garland around the bust of Srinivasa Ramanujan. That was it. The feeling of ‘nothing more to be achieved in life’ came to us. Emotions were controlled and we sat for the Children’s Day celebration that lasted for 20 minutes or so.
Following that we went into the oldest block – Ramanujan block, in the school which has been there since the time of Ramanujan. All our Yatris were thrilled to enter into hall and as they entered, they were welcomed with a loud applause by the students of 9th grade who were waiting for all of us for an interactive session. The session started with some display and explanation of traditional games that are played in rural areas in Tamil Nadu. Girls showed some games with stones that they play which requires a lot of skill and hand-eye coordination. That was followed by some board games (like Pallankuzhi, Tiger-sheep game, etc.) which requires strategy. The games of tigers and sheep was a favourite game of Ramanujan which he used to play with his mother when he was a boy. After the wonderful demonstration and explanation of traditional games by the students (Hetvi, 9th grade student from Mumbai) of Town High school students, one of our participants did a session for the young Ramanujans of Town High. The session was on the Theory of Partitions in Numbers, an area in which Ramanujan had made a phenomenal contribution and one of the reasons why he was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Her presentation was simple and easy to understand and the audience enjoyed working out the questions that she posed them.
After Hetvi’s presentation, there was an interactive session between the students of the school and our Yatris. They asked each other questions like…how does it feel to be studying in the school where Ramanujan studied…what aspect of Ramanujan has inspired you….how did Ramanujan arrive at the property of 1729…and so on. All this while, more than 25 teachers and more than 100 students from the school had participated in the session. And by the way all of them were being attentive was a sight to watch.
We were served a delicious Sapadu (meal) following which we took a round of the school. It was very hard for us to leave the school. In a short span of time, all of us were connected so strongly to the place by the love showered by all of them. For what? For nothing! The people over there were just lovely and they just loved the fact that we were on this Yatra to study the life and works of Srinivasa Ramanujan.
Something else that I shouldn’t fail to mention was that the school has 3000 students from grade 6 to 12 in both English and Tamil medium. Many students come from humble backgrounds and many ex-students of the school support the education of present day students who cannot afford. What a way to give back! And of course, it would be because they would have felt how influcencial their school was to them when they were children.
With a heavy heart, we bid good bye to the place and left for the Ramanujan Museum at SASTRA University, Kumbakonam. The museum is very well maintained and has a good number of letters, notes, findings of Ramanujan. The Yatris couldn’t just finish going through all of them. If one has to read everything in detail, even 2 hours would have been less. With great detail many of them penned down the notes (as photography wasn’t allowed). After a hour, we were about to leave to the great personality’s home at Sarangapani Street. We reached there in less than 5 minutes. How would an Ayyappa Bhakta feel when he arrives at the 18 steps of Sabarimala? How would someone who has waited all their life to visit the religious place closest to their heart and now has arrived at that place? Nothing less was our feeling. All of us went inside the typical Brahmin home which is preserved by SASTRA University today. The first room in the left has a window that faces the road. It was written there that Ramanujan used to look out of the window, lost in thought, for long hours when he was a child. I tried looking outside just to see if I can get the feel and if in the least probability could see something Ramanujan saw while he gazed outside. All the Yatris came inside to check out the small house. I could see some of them walking inside quietly with an indescribable feeling sinking into their hearts. One of them, Shashwat, sported a smile on his face and asked me, “Sir, can you feel it?” We just exchanged smiles because we knew that the feeling couldn’t be described.
We spent ample amount of time wondering where Ramanujan would have sat to have food…how he would have worked on Mathematics while his mother would have fed into his mouth the rice balls she would make for him…and how he would have worked on Mathematics as he grew up in that house. We stepped out after our hearts overflowed with contentment.
We wanted to go to the Sarangapani temple where Ramanujan was known to spend a lot of time discovering Mathematical formulae. But unfortunately, the temple was closed as a matter of practice that they follow whenever there’s any death in the locality. It was a bit of disappointment, but that could not overshadow our contentment.
We left Kumbakonam after having some Pakodas and filter coffee and reached Thanjavur to board the bus to Chennai. The face of all the Yatris were lit throughout the day, for, they had visited their Kasi and Ganga! And as they bring Ganga water with them, some of us took a handful of sand from the ground in the Town High School where Ramanujan’s footsteps would have fallen some time. All that we can say, is that we feel blessed!
Photo credits: Veeraj Nair, VN Visions and Parnavi Bangar