India has always had a fascination for Mathematics. From Bhaskaracharya to Srinivasa Ramanujam, Indian mathematicians have made vital contributions to this field. In this long line of eminent math wizards, proudly stands Parimala Raman, a mathematician known globally for her contribution in the field of algebra. She spoke to The Better India about her early influences, challenges, and gave a message to those students who wish to pursue a career in math.
The Seeds of Love for a Subject Are Sown Early
“I owe it to my wonderful teachers in Sarada Vidyalaya, Chennai, who taught me math well and got me attracted to it,” begins Parimala. Parimala’s early years were spent in Chennai where she completed her schooling and went to Stella Maris College for Women.
Parimala shares that during her college days, Professor Thangamani was of great help to her, and influenced her career choice.
During her time at Stella Maris College, there was a brief period where Parimala contemplated taking up Sanskrit poetry but numbers had truly taken over her heart. “Math has the beauty of poetry,” she says.
Being a scholar in the Mathematical arena is not the default career option that most families understand. Parimala credits her parents with supporting her and letting her find her own space. Parimala says, “I had such enlightened parents who encouraged me to do whatever I excelled in to the best possible manner.”
Support From Her Family
Parimala’s father was an English Professor who guided her through her choice of a research institution, while her mother was the rock of support during Parimala’s entire career. With the solid backing of her family, Parimala took up her research work at the Ramanujan Institute for Advanced Studies in Mathematics.
There she met a couple of mentors who would guide her in higher math. She says, “I also must mention the mathematicians at the Ramanujan Institute, particularly Professor Bhanumurthy and Professor Rema for the encouragement and support during the initial year of my research.”
Awards and Accolades
The recipient of several national and international awards, which include Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology (1987). In 2010, Parimala received one of the highest global honours in her field when she was selected as the plenary speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians.
Earlier this month, the government decided to establish eleven chairs to honour women scientists who have contributed to the field of science. It is also to inspire women and encourage participation of young girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Parimala is the only living person on the list. Her area of research is algebra with connections to algebraic geometry and number theory. She is also well-recognised for her solution to the second Serre conjecture.
Support of her husband
Parimala credits her husband, Raman, for helping her in the pursuit of her passion for Math post marriage. After their wedding, Parimala who was a professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, took leave for a year and accompanied husband to Dares-Salaam. Raman worked as the Chief Internal Auditor with the Board of Internal Trade, Tanzania.
“I had no clear plan for my career. In a few months, Raman took an extraordinary decision. He quit his job to accompany me to E.T.H. Zurich so that I could do post-doctoral work.” It was this critical decision that helped Parimala get back to research and mathematics.
“But for his support, I would have given up my career at some point. More than support, his enthusiasm for the research I do and rejoicing when I get recognition were steering forces for me to continue to this date in the profession. He is immensely proud of me,” smiles Parimala.
As my final question, I asked her about what she would say to many like me who grow up fearing numbers and mathematics. She laughs heartily and says, “My message is that a career in mathematics is full of challenges and rewards; it gives an opportunity for students with a passion for mathematics limitless possibilities for creative thinking. It gives students with a passion for mathematics limitless possibilities for creative thinking. There are globe-trotting opportunities to meet with mathematicians world over. Imparting your knowledge through teaching and mentoring is part of the reward of this career.”
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)