“Numbers have life; they are not just symbols on paper.” – Shakuntala Devi
Shakuntala Devi, a timeless mathematic genius, a name that is now familiar to us after Vidya Balan starred and Anu Menon directed latest Bollywood movie ‘Shakuntala Devi’ got released on Amazon Prime Video. When the dialogue uttered by the protagonist Shakuntala Devi confronts “Jab amazing ho sakti hu… Toh normal kyun banu?”, then it naturally raises a question in the audiences’ mind concerning the unique persona of amazing Shakuntala Devi in real life.
Who is Shakuntala Devi?
Shakuntala Devi is a much honored Indian mathematician who is accepted as a ‘Genius’ by the world’s greatest minds. She is famously celebrated as the ‘Human Computer’. She mentally extracted the 23rd root of a 201 digit number in 1977 and astounded everyone by doing it 12 seconds faster than the Univac-1108.
Not only this, Shakuntala Devi secured a place for herself on the 1995 Guinness Book of Records. She was the mastermind behind the concept of Mind Dynamics which took birth from her sheer interest in exploration of the human mind’s learning capacity and how to increase it.
Shakuntala Devi – Early Life
The legend Shakuntala Devi was born on 4th November, 1939 in a famous Brahmin priest family in Bengaluru. She was a gifted child and used to accompany her father in card tricks when she was just three years old.
The most surprising fact is that she didn’t get any formal education, and got her first lesson in Maths from her grandfather. She became an undefeated expert in complex mental arithmetic by the tender age of 5. From there, people started recognizing her as a child prodigy. Once she quoted, “I haven’t had any formal education. Through the grace of God, I am gifted in mathematics and the English language.”
One year later, she got an opportunity of demonstrating her unique talents at the University of Mysore in front a massive congregation of professors and students. At the age of 8, her special abilities were demonstrated at Annamalai University. Astonishingly, she could do calculations involving large numbers in no time.
Shakuntala Devi – Phenomenal Skills
It was a child’s task for Devi to do cube roots of large numbers mentally. In the year 1988, the worldwide renowned psychologist Arthur Jensen conducted a test at the University of California – Berkeley in which she took only 2 seconds to mentally calculate the cube roots of 95,443,993 (answer is 457), 5 seconds to calculate cube roots of 204,336,469 (answer is 589), and only 10 seconds for 2,373,927,704 (answer is 1334).
In the year 1997, 23rd root of a 201 digit number was mentally solved by her in a moment. Shakuntala Devi took only 40 seconds to calculate the 7th root of 455,762,531,836,562,695,930,666,032,734,375 (answer is 46,295). It was recorded in Berkley’s test in 1988. The amazing fact was that this math wizard back calculated from the 7th power for deriving the root meaning 46,295 was multiplied by itself for seven times and reached 27 digits.
In 1982, she did another wonder that took her to the Guinness Book of Records. In the year 1980, 18th June, venued at London’s Imperial College (computer science department), she was to multiply two 13 digits numbers which are 686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779. It was right at the 28th second when she declared the flawless answer that was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.
While compiling her mathematical magic, we can add a dialogue from the movie ‘Shakuntala Devi’- “Maths mein rules nahi hai..Sirf jadoo hai.” The mother of mathematics could instantly answer which particular day of the specific week it is whenever she was given a date in the last century. Only 1 second was her average response time. Let’s take an example: If she was asked which day was July 31, 1920, she would say Saturday in a flash. She used to take a second if the date was in the order of month-day-year (July 31, 1920). Again, she would not wait for the stopwatch to start for answering if the day was asked in the order of year-month-day (1920, July 31).
Shakuntala Devi once quoted, “Education is not just about going to school and getting a degree. It’s about widening your knowledge and absorbing the truth about life.”
She traveled the world and performed for the Educationalists, Prime Ministers, students’ community, politicians and Presidents.
Shakuntala Devi – Achievements
- Year 1969 – Distinguished Woman of the Year Award along with a gold medal (University of Philippines)
- Year 1988 – Ramanujan Mathematical Genius Award (Washington D.C.)
- Year 1995 – Her name was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- Year 2013 – Lifetime Achievement Award (Mumbai) – This award is being presented to her just one month before her unfortunate demise.
An Educational Foundation Public Trust was established by her in Bangalore for promoting mathematical, philosophical and astrological studies.
Shakuntala Devi – Books
Not only a mathematical wizard or a child prodigy, she was a great author too.
Puzzles to Puzzle You
It is one of the best work of Shakuntala Devi. As per critics, this book is ideal for those who aspire to master in maths. The publication sold more than 6,000 copies of this book in its first week.
The World of Homosexuals
This book was published in the year 1977. Though it went unnoticed in the beginning yet with the threshold of a new cultural realm, it grabbed special attention and was included among the top 100 books by Indian authors in the year 2005.
It is a story of a successful lawyer who turned into a killer. This fine work of fiction proved Shakuntala Devi’s literary capabilities. This book is translated in some regional languages.
Apart from these books, she also authored – ‘Figuring: The Joy of Numbers’, ‘More Puzzles to Puzzle You’, ‘The Book of Numbers’, ‘Astrology for You’, ‘Mathability: Awaken the Math Genius in Your Child’, ‘In the Wonderland of Numbers’, etc.
Shakuntala Devi – Success Story
The Math Magician traveled throughout the world spreading her magical calculative powers. She performed in several theaters, institutions and television shows. Her grand appearance on the popular BBC show ‘Nationwide’ on 27th September, 1973, made renowned Bob Wellings awestruck as she gave the perfect answers to all the extremely challenging math questions.
Furthermore, Devi earned immense respect and standing ovation from the audiences of erudite mathematicians in the year 1977 when she unimaginably took just 50 seconds to answer 23rd root of a 201 digit number.
She defeated the most powerful computer of that time which took 62 seconds to answer the same. So, she can be rightly complimented as superior to the computer of her time.
Fame was lingering her destiny, and she got an invitation from London’s Imperial College on June 18, 1980. She baffled the hall full of audience by answering utterly difficult maths problem in fraction of seconds. Again, she beat one the fastest computers of the world by 10 seconds by multiplying two 13 digit numbers in mere 28 seconds.
In this entire context, a dialogue from the recent Bollywood movie on her honor perfectly matches – “Main kabhi nahi haarti.. Always remember that”.
Shakuntala Devi – Personal Life
In the mid-1960s, Shakuntala Devi was married to Paritosh Banerjee who was an IAS officer. They got separated in 1979 due to certain personal disparities. After that she returned to Bangalore accompanied by her daughter in the 80s. Shakuntala Devi was not only a mathematics genius, but also a great astrologer too following her family tradition.
After coming back to Bangalore, she continued offering astrological advice to people among whom the then politicians and celebrities were also included. She took her last breath on 21st April, 2013 due to renal failure.
What Makes Shakuntala Devi – The SuperHer?
Being a daughter, a wife and a mother, she never stopped. Apart from these roles, she also became an ideal role for the people who think, a woman is only meant for household chores. She was The Mother of Maths, An Astrologer, An Author and of course ‘The Human Computer’.
Shakuntala Devi also became an inspiration to the entire womenhood and others who believes, Mathematics is not a cup of tea for women.
The Movie Shakuntala Devi is a reflection of her real life where there is a deep-rooted humanity behind the analytical mind of the real-life intellectual prodigy. It won’t be a wonder if the story of her meeting Albert Einstein come out to be true where the theoretical physicist was taken aback by Devi’s unparalleled equation with numbers that prompted him to address her as a ‘Mathematical Wizard’, “Vidyakasam”.
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