A Raigarh Problem – Times of India
In Chhattisgarh’s steel town of Raigarh, school-going boys like a Maths teacher more than Salman Khan. For these kids, Jawaharlal Sahu has devised a unique deliverance from academic torture — a “formula” that simplifies elementary maths. Actually, that’s putting the 57-year-old’s “achievement” rather simplistically. Because Sahu emphatically claims to have revolutionised the whole of maths with his formula, which he says he arrived at by resolving a 370-year-old “unsolved” problem. Sahu, coordinator of 17 district schools, says he has “proved” Fermat’s Last Theorem. Pierre de Fermat, a 17th century French mathematician, scribbled the theorem on the margins of a book he was reading but did not mention the proof, citing lack of space. Finding it became one of the greatest mathematical challenges.
“The greatest of mathematicians have tried to crack the problem for centuries but failed. Now, I have a simple solution that will change the way we do things,” says Sahu, whose stock in Raigarh has steadily risen since he aired his theories on All India Radio on February 4.
Sahu is treated locally as if he is Einstein. He has hogged the headlines and appeared on TV. He has done a lecture circuit and explained his theory. He enjoys state patronage. An educational panel invited him for a presentation on February 21. He has also had steady backing from a former district magistrate and a former district education officer. Official support has ensured that his theory gets peer reviewed by a local panel of mathematicians.
Now Sahu is planning to expand his horizons. He will soon be sending his theory to President APJ Abdul Kalam to kickstart his journey to fame at the national level. But this last wish of Sahu may ultimately lead to ignominy. Fermat’s Last Theorem has already been solved, and it was not by Sahu.
Sahu has the primary trapping of most great mathematicians — eccentricity. The problem is the similarity ends there. Instead of taking the usual route of submitting his paper in a peer review journal, he took his work directly to the media. Tell him that and his defence is, “I am afraid that my intellectual property will be stolen by others.”
Sahu says that he came across Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1997 in Dainik Bhaskar. “I immediately saw its similarity with Pythagoras’ theorem and set upon the task of solving it. I should get the £10 lakh award that Britain has announced for the person who comes up with the solution.”
You tell Sahu that there’s no such prize instituted by Britain. There was an award, the Wolfskehl Prize, but that went to British-American mathematician Andrew Wiles who confined himself to an attic for seven years and came up with a solution of Fermat’s Last Theorem. That was four years before Sahu set his eyes on the problem in the Hindi daily.
Sahu’s undoing may be that he possibly started out with the wrong problem. The theorem states that the equation x^n+y^n=z^n has no solutions in non-zero integers x, y and z if n>2. Interviewing Sahu revealed he was oblivious of the ‘has no solutions if n>2’ portion of the problem. In fact, it is not clear what exactly is the problem he claims to have solved.
N Fakhruddin, an algebraic geometer from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, says that for over three and a half centuries, some of the greatest mathematical minds exhausted almost all possible ways of arriving at the solution. It is highly unlikely that Sahu would have found a new method considering that he did not get the problem right in the first place.