Shakuntala Devi - Remembering the world's only human calculator
Universally renowned and nicknamed “the human calculator”, Shakuntala Devi was born on November 4th 1929, in Bangalore to poor, hard-working parents, who discovered her mathematical genius when she was just 3 years old. She enrolled at St.Teresas Convent in Chamrajpet, but had to drop out as her parents could not afford the Re.2 fee. Her father, a lion tamer and circus artist, discovered his daughter’s exceptional number crunching skills while teaching her a game of cards. At the tender age of 6, the young prodigy presented her mathematical skills at the University of Mysore, and at the age of 8, presented the same at the Annamalai University.
In 1977, she competed against a computer in Dallas and won. The challenge involved seeing who could provide the cube root of 188132517 faster. In the same year, she was asked to provide the 23rd root of 916748676920039158098660927585380162483106680144308622407126516427934657040867096593279205767480806790022783016354924852380335745316935111903596577547340075681688305620821016129132845564805780158806771. She took only 50 seconds to provide the answer; 546372891, whereas it took a UNIVAC 1108 computer 60 seconds and 13,000 instructions to confirm that her answer was correct.
In 1980, she demonstrated her genius at the Imperial College, London by multiplying two 13-digit numbers which were randomly chosen; she calculated the multiplication of 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 and stated the correct answer 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds. This remarkable feat was featured in the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records and is yet to be broken.
Apart from her mathematical genius, Shakuntala Devi was a reputed astrologer and could, if given any date in any century, calculate the exact day in the week in which it occurred.
She wrote books which covered a wide range of topics, from mathematics books such as “Figuring: The Joy of Numbers” and “Mathability: Awaken the Math genius in your child”, to astrology books such as “Astrology for you” and even short stories such as “The Blessed Fisherman and other stories” and “Perfect Murder”. She is also respected by women’s rights and equal rights activists for her contribution to the gender equality movement via her books “Women’s Status and Social Change”, “Tradition and Modernity among Indian Women”. Her progressive thoughts on women’s empowerment and the importance of a female perspective in context with human rights, is widely appreciated.
Shakuntala Devi’s singular goal was to promote Mathematics as an easy-to-learn subject. She hoped to set up a University in her name, and also wished to encourage research and use of Vedic Mathematics.
The Shakuntala Devi Education Foundation Public Trust was set up in _ with the objective of providing quality education opportunities for children from economically-backward sections of society. As per her wish to set up a separate mathematics research unit, a unit is said to be under construction at the cost of 5 crores.
Shakuntala Devi passed away on April 21st 2013 at a Bangalore Hospital, due to respiratory and cardiac problems, surrounded by family members and well-wishers. She will always be remembered, not only for her mathematical skills, but also as a progressive thinker, a witty human being and a humble person who never forgot her roots, and dedicated part of her life to helping those who belonged to similar backgrounds. She will be sorely missed.