Mumbai: Until recently the holder of a bank account with just a few thousand rupees, Professor Mahan Maharaj, an ascetic monk, is today the winner of a Rs 65 lakh-prize for his work in geometry.
The highly-regarded mathematics professor who has just been appointed by the elite Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, has won the coveted Infosys Prize in Mathematics.
The prize was awarded to him "for his outstanding contributions to geometric group theory, low-dimensional topology and complex geometry".
"What fired my imagination in school was geometry since all things you see abstract out to geometry. The subject gives you no scope for hedging and bluffing, the subject is a stern taskmaster," he said.
The 47-year-old became a monk in 1998 by joining the monastic order of the Ramakrishna Mission. At that time he was pursuing his PhD in California.
In being a man of faith and science at the same time, he sees no incongruity. "In terms of my mathematical life there is absolutely no contradiction," Professor Mahan said.
In 2011, he won the of India's top science prizes--the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award.
He said he wears saffron clothes to remind him to lead an austere lifestyle and has little to do with religion.
"I follow no organised religion. If you asked me and one put a gun to my head I would probably say science," he said.
Neither does he have an interest in politics. "We are strictly apolitical. Science is by nature apolitical," he said.
Professor Mahan, who said playing with abstract recurring shapes is his favourite pastime as a mathematician, hopes to set up a charitable trust to teach fundamental science to the underprivileged.