Friday, December 22, 2017


In honour of the recently announced national mathematics day, I thought I'll write a blog post on the sheer poetry of zero.

When I was growing up, Shakuntala Devi was a fascination. I bought every book of hers. She had a large repertoire of calculating algorithms from numerous sources. In one of her books, she said that zero was invented by Indians.

I was surprised at that piece of information. By then, the number system had been etched in my mind as a matter of fact. To think that someone would've had to invent something like zero astounded my teenage brain. And yet we did! Recorded by Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, we don't know exactly how the decimal system evolved. But we do know that it was in contemporary use at that time in history around 500-700 AD. Anyone who recollects the Roman numeral system will understand how cumbersome addition and subtraction was in that representation. In fact, the English word 'zero' was derived across centuries and miles from the Sanskrit word 'shunya'.

Indian mathematicians have a unique quality and that is creativity. From the poetic talents of Pingala, Brahmagupta through the genius of Ramanujam, whose short career was illuminated by brilliant proofs, till our contemporary Fields Medallist Manjul Bhargava, our mathematicians possess an innate creativity. I am sure the beauty of mathematics will remain firm in India. After all, it's universal and just beautiful :) 

No comments:

Post a Comment