Shakuntala Devi
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In a world where so many people are terrified of mathematics, Shakuntala Devi was the woman who made it look so easy. The late Indian math genius first displayed her affinity for numbers when she was just three years old. She later embarked on a tour of several countries, mesmerizing academics with her ability to solve complicated math problems in seconds.  Devi’s prowess defied understanding and earned her a Guinness world record. Want to know more about lady known as the Human Computer? Then we have got five interesting facts about her including one trailblazing book that she authored.

Things You Didn’t Know About Shakuntala Devi

Her father was a circus performer

Shakuntala Devi was born on the 4th of November 1929 in Bangalore, Mysore State, British India. Her father hailed from the orthodox priestly Brahmin family and as such, was expected to become a priest. He however rebelled against these expectations and joined the circus. Devi thus grew up poor and did not obtain any formal education as her parents could not afford her school fees. Shakuntala Devi first exhibited her wicked math skills when she was just three years old. Her father immediately noticed this and recruited her to work in the circus. Devi’s skills drew many patrons and her fame grew. The young girl later embarked on solo road shows and became the breadwinner for her family.

Shakuntala Devi has a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Having astonished the whole of India, Shakuntala Devi took her mathematical prowess to several foreign countries. In 1977, she correctly extracted the 23rd root of a 201-didgit number in 50 seconds, beating a Univac computer which took 62 seconds. In 1980, Devi correctly multiplied two 13-didgit numbers (7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,799) and gave the correct answer in 28 seconds. This 28 seconds included the time that it took her to recite the 26-digit answer, and her performance earned her a place in the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records.

Shakuntala Devi also visited the United States in 1988 as foremost educational psychologist, Arthur Jensen, tried to decode the secret of her abilities. Jensen gave Devi two problems, the cube root of 61,629,875 and the seventh root of 170,859,375, and she gave the correct answer before Jensen’s wife could even start the stopwatch. Jensen later suggested that Devi’s abilities was due to the fact that she perceived large numbers differently from others. Devi, on her own part, described her talent as God’s gift.

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She wrote several books including a pioneer text on homosexuality.

Shakuntala Devi did not just have an affinity for numbers but also for words. The maths wizard penned several books ranging from novels to cookbooks. Some of them are Astrology for You (2005), Book of Numbers (2006), Perfect Murder (1976), and Puzzles to Puzzle You (2005) etc. Devi also penned a 1977 book titled The World of Homosexuals. The mathematician was motivated to write the book as a result of her own experience of being married to a closeted gay man.

The book featured interviews with several people. One of them was executive who leads a double life with his same-sex lover and his betrothed. Another was a temple priest who suggested that same-sex lovers may have been opposite sex lovers in their previous life. Devi concluded her book on a progressive note; asserting that law-abiding citizens, who respect the rights and dignities of others, should not be made to suffer just because they deviate from societal norms.

Shakuntala Devi
A Google doodle in honor of the late Shakuntala Devi image source

Shakuntala Devi died at the age of 83

Devi passed away on the 21st of April 2013 in her home state of Bangalore. The maths genius had been admitted into the hospital two weeks earlier as a result of respiratory, kidney and heart-related problems. She later went into a cardiac arrest and breathed her last around 8.15 am, 21st of April 2013. She was subsequently cremated in the evening of that same day at the Banshankari Crematorium. Shakuntala Devi was survived by her daughter, Anupama Banerjee, her son-in-law and two granddaughters. Her demise led to obituaries in several international publications including The New York Times and The Telegraph. Google also honoured her with a doodle on what would have been her 81st birthday, the 4th of November 2013.

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She is getting a biopic

Devi’s life certainly deserves a biopic and she will be getting one. The film is titled Shakuntala Devi – Human Computer and is set to hit the cinemas in the summer of 2020. The project is produced by Sony Pictures Network Productions and stars popular Indian actress Vidya Balan in the titular role. Balan has since stated that she is extremely excited to play a woman who embraced her individuality, had a strong feminist voice and reached the pinnacle of success. The film’s director, Anu Menen, has also described Devi as an extraordinary woman with an incredible story that should be told.

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