Last week, quite by accident, I came across a movie I might not have even bothered to watch. But who can resist Dev Patel especially when you haven’t yet seen “Lion,” another flick I’ve been hoping to see soon? Filmed in India and the UK, the scenery alone was marvelous. Patel plays the role divinely all the way to the perfect awe one might expect of someone who’d never been to a world-famous institution like the University of Cambridge.
I understand that feeling. It’s happened to me a few times–in temples in Delhi and Puducherry; in Old Sturbridge, Massachusetts, as I moved through the glass doors from the year 1994 back to the year 1834; in Washington, DC, where I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s children’s section, what they called “Daniel’s story.” I wasn’t ready to handle the main section of the museum and knew even the children’s section was going to be intense. One entered “Daniel’s story” with a paper make-believe ticket for travel on the cattle cars headed to one of the concentration camps.
So imagine if you will then, the awe, the reverence with which Patel in the character of the man they called Ramanujan took in those first few moments of seeing Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. Patel portrayed Ramanujan’s excitement for the experience as stronger than any fears he might have had. Aside from any natural apprehension Ramanujan had about traveling across oceans to a Western culture, his mother had implied such travel was somehow religiously forbidden for him to do. Of course, fears like those wouldn’t have been the same kind I would have had from the chilling realization of the WWII cattle car travelers’ destinations–the eventual death camps they’d been told were resettlement camps. I’m sure the Japanese in the United States, looking back on the same period of WWII, might have understandably been haunted by similar thoughts–that this too could have happened to them. Despite any relief that US history hadn’t taken the same path, the supposition is still there–that it might have. It’s similar to what I suspect survivors of September 11, 2001 might have experienced after they realized they had escaped. There’s the reverence of the moment, a perhaps helpless understanding of the depths and breadths of such moments. In that sense, yes, reverence.
In my case, I might have assumed the memories of those who lost their lives as they faced that unknown future. In Delhi and Puducherry at the temples, I too felt the awe of powers greater than the one grain of sand any of us are; in Old Sturbridge, the awe of history, of time, of the accumulated wealth of knowledge and change and transformation evolving through those decades between then and now…and perhaps for Ramanujan, the awe of the knowledge shared in those hallowed halls for so many years at Oxford, Cambridge and other highly revered learning institutions in the United Kingdom already–and how much more he knew it was his turn to share and bestow on this well-respected school at Trinity College of the University of Cambridge already–and how much more he knew it was his turn to share and bestow on this revered institution. Whether or not he actually knew how special he was–beyond the natural assurance and despite what one might have sensed was cockiness–no one really knew, I’m sure. But perhaps he did know, or perhaps Patel portrayed him that well it seemed.
While I mentioned in the beginning how I might never have bothered to consider watching the movie, if truth be known, something beyond Dev Patel and his charismatic self tugged at me. From the very first moments I watched this movie, I felt like I’ve already met Ramanujan. Obviously not sometime between 1887 and when he died, but perhaps I met him in his new incarnation or I knew him in one of his past lifetimes.
Then again, perhaps it’s simply my love of Hindi movies which I’ve been watching a lot since I received a gift of a Netflix membership some months back. These movies are often my additional teachers as I continue to try to learn more Hindi. (It’s a slow process, but I love the language.) Recently, I learned a beautiful word, thanks to actor John Abraham. Meghdoot. “Cloud messenger.” That word is nothing short of magical to me, and it reminds me how often Indian movies seem to possess far more depth than most of those I’ve seen from Hollywood.
So of course it was natural for me, as soon as I realized I wanted to write about this man they called Srinivasa Ramanujan, to search for his birth data. Thanks to Astrodatabank, finding the data was easy. December 22, 1887, 6:20 PM (1820 hours), Erode, India.