Shakuntala Devi was an Indian writer and mathematical genius. She is popularly known as the “Human-Computer” for making complicated mathematical calculations in her head and effortlessly speaking out the results. Her extraordinary abilities earned her a place in “The Guinness Book of World Records.”
Shakuntala Devi was born on Monday, 4 November 1929 (age 83 years; at the time of death in 2013) in Bengaluru. Her zodiac sign was Scorpio. She could not receive a formal education due to her family’s dire situation.
At the age of 3, Shakuntala started exhibiting some advanced skills in numbers, and by the time she reached 5, she could calculate cube roots. Her father discovered her ability to memorise numbers and took her on tours and roadshows and displayed her ability to calculate. Soon, she garnered much attention and started earning money with her talent. Shakuntala, then, visited various universities in southern India. When she was six, she displayed her skills at the University of Mysore. Further, she demonstrated her skills at Annamalai University, Osmania University, and the universities of Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. In 1944, she earned international recognition and moved to London with her father.
Shakuntala died on 21 April 2013 (age 83 years; at the time of death) due to respiratory, heart, and kidney problems.
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Family, Caste & Husband
Shakuntala Devi belonged to an orthodox Kannada Brahmin Family. Her father was a circus performer. Not much is known about her mother and siblings. Shakuntala got married to Paritosh Banerjee, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service from Kolkata, in 1960. They got divorced in 1979. The couple has a daughter, Anupama Banerjee.
In 1944, Shakuntala became an international name and travelled to several countries including the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Sri Lanka, Italy, Canada, Russia, France, Spain, Mauritius, Indonesia, and Malaysia demonstrating her expertise in mathematics. Shakuntala is best remembered for calculating the multiplication of two randomly picked 13 digits numbers which were—7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779. She answered it correctly within 28 seconds. Her arithmetic talent marked her a place in the ‘Guinness Book of Records’ in 1982.
Shakuntala had mastered her mathematics talent to such an extent that when she was asked to calculate the 23rd root of a 201-digit number at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, USA, she solved it in 50 seconds, whereas, it took four minutes for a professor to write the problem and more than a minute for a Univac computer to solve it.
She was also a successful astrologer and had written many books on the subject. She had also written many texts on mathematics for children, puzzles, cookbooks, and novels. In 1977, she wrote ‘The World of Homosexuals,’ which was one of her most significant books. It was the first comprehensive study of homosexuality in India.
Shakuntala was also an active philanthropist. She started the Shakuntala Devi Education Foundation Public Trust to provide good education to underprivileged children. She has also worked to spread global awareness about India’s contribution towards Mathematics.
Opposition to Astrology and Future Predictions
Shakuntala Devi once faced opposition to her astrology and future prediction practices from Shyam Manav, an Indian social reformer, rationalist, and writer who is also the National Convenor of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, an organization dedicated to combating superstitions. On 25 May 1985, an FIR was filed against Shakuntala Devi regarding her future prediction practices. Shyam Manav – YouTube According to Manav, Shakuntala once used an advertisement that stated,
“God can tell correct fortunes, so can Shakuntala Devi.”
In a YouTube video where he referred to Shakuntala Devi as a ‘fraud,’ Manav claimed that he and his team had proved the inaccuracy of her predictions, which led Shakuntala to cancel attending at an event in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Dhruv Rathee – YouTube
Awards & Honours
- Most Distinguished Woman Of The Year by the University of Philippines (1969)
- Ramanujan Mathematical Genius Award in Washington D.C (1988)
- Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award one month prior to her death (2013)
- Her father became a circus performer, excelling in trapeze, tightrope, lion taming, and human cannonball acts as against their family’s priestly traditions.
- On 4 November 2013, Shakuntala was honoured with a Google Doodle for her achievements on her 84th birthday.
- Arthur Jensen, a psychology professor from the University of California, Berkeley, carried out a deep study on her abilities. He had published his findings in the academic journal titled “Intelligence.”
- Shakuntala claimed to have joined a convent school when she was 10 years old but was expelled from the school within 3 months of her admission as her parents were unable to pay the fees.
- Shakuntala appeared on the BBC show where the host, Leslie Mitchell, asked her to solve a complex math problem. She solved the problem within seconds but the host claimed the answer to be incorrect as it was different from what the host and his entire team had calculated. However, later, it was realised that Devi’s answer was correct and the answer calculated by the host and his team was incorrect. This news got spread across the world and she was given the title of the “Human Computer.”
- Actress Vidya Balan has roped in to play the role of Shakuntala Devi in her biopic which is slated to release in the year 2020.