In 1831, George Everest, the Surveyor General of India, was in pursuit of a mathematician who had specialised in Spherical Trigonometry.
This was so that they could be a part of the Great Trigonometric Survey, which had started in Scotland and was brought to India in 1802.
John Tytler, a professor of Mathematics at the Hindu (now Presidency) College, recommended 19-year-old Radhanath Sikdar’s name.
Radhanath, a student of the college since 1824, was one of the first two Indians to read Newton’s Principia.
Taking inspiration from this, he devised a new method to draw a common tangent to two circles, when he was just a teenager.
There was little doubt about Radhanath’s proficiency in his subject, and he secured the job at the GTS on 19 December 1831.
His designation was that of a ‘computer,’ and he earned a salary of 40 rupees per month.
Even as seven other Bengali ‘computers’ worked alongside him, Radhanath soon showed his superior skills in mathematics and became Everest’s favourite colleague.
Everest retired in 1843 and was succeeded by Colonel Andrew Scott Waugh.
Eight years later, in 1851, Radhanath was promoted to the position of Chief Computer and transferred to Calcutta, where he became a superintendent for the Meteorological Department.
This is when Radhanath started measuring the snow-capped mountains in Darjeeling.
The brilliant mathematician discovered in 1852 that the Kanchenjunga, which was considered to be the tallest in the world, wasn’t really so.
The honour belonged to Peak XV (now Mount Everest).
Sikdar had calculated the height at exactly 29,000 ft, but Waugh added an arbitrary two feet because he was afraid that Sikdar’s figure would be considered a rounded number.
He officially announced this finding in March 1856, and this remained the height of Mount Everest till an Indian survey re-calculated it to be 29,029 ft (8,848 m) in 1955.
The Royal Geographic Society subsequently pronounced the official name ‘Mount Everest’ in 1865 after George Everest, Surveyor General of India.
Radhanath Sikdar passed away in May 1870, but without his efforts, Peak XV would have just been another mountain in the Himalayas.