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Shakuntala Devi: The Human Computer


She was born in Bengaluru on the 4th of November 1929. By the age of 5, she was able to solve complex maths problems. Her father showcased her talent as a nifty crack on roadshows. At 6, she performed in her first major show at the University of Mysore. But she barely attended school. She was expelled at the age of 10 when her parents were unable to pay the fees. But when other kids were learning to count, she was solving cube roots in her mind to earn bread for her family.

Her father acted as her manager. At 21, she toured across Europe exhibiting her talent on stage, exhibiting her talent on television. During that time it was unusual for an Indian woman to embark on a career in the West, especially in the male-dominated arena of mathematics. But she never saw it as a huddle.

Shakuntala Devi: The Human Computer

What is that you love about being on stage? When they see a girl in braids doing maths. Before every performance she used to armed with a sharp memory, armed with flowing series, armed with jewelry, She always left her audience enthralled. In 1977, she penned a book called The World by becoming one of the first to ask for the decriminalization of homosexuality in India. In the same year, at the age of 48, she calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in just 50 seconds faster than a Univac computer.

At 51, she multiplied two 13-digit numbers in 28 seconds, a feat that won her a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. She once said, “As a child, I thought it was a disadvantage. But now I think it is a great advantage, which has given me so many opportunities in life, which I would not have had without my gift”.

When she was 59 years old, educational psychologist Arthur R Jensen from the United States of America tried to unlock the secret of her mental prowess. He predicted that for her numbers is like a native language which comes to her naturally. He also added that she built on her inherent skills through intense practice as a child. She shared her vast knowledge of arithmetic through a number of books for children.

At 83, she passed away in Bengaluru due to respiratory and kidney problems. She is Shakuntala Devi. A mathematical wizard who conquered the world of numbers with her grit, with her charm.

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