Meet Shakuntala Devi, the Human Calculator3 min read

July 28, 2021 3 min read


Meet Shakuntala Devi, the Human Calculator3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sumayya Sultana

Nurture International School, Bengaluru

Class 7

Do you have a bittersweet relationship with Math? Do you love it? Does it love you right back? Here’s a story of a pathbreaking woman who thought Math was magical!

Image: Medium

Shakuntala Devi is an Indian mathematician, writer and mental calculator, popularly known as Human Calculator. She was born on 4 November,1929 in Bangalore, Karnataka to a Kannada Brahmin family. Her father, C.V. Sundararaja Rao worked  as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker and as a magician in a circus. He discovered his daughter’s ability of memorising numbers while teaching her a card trick when she was 3 years old. Her father left the circus and took her on road shows that displayed her ability at calculation. She did this without any formal education. At the age of six, she demonstrated her arithmetic abilities at the University of Mysore. In 1944 Devi moved to London, United Kingdom.

Image: BBC

Devi travelled to several countries around the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents. She was on a tour of Europe throughout 1950 and was in New York City in 1976. In 1988, she travelled to the US to have her abilities studied by Arthur Jensen, a professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, Devi was quizzed on questions like finding the cube root of 61,629,875 and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Jensen reported that Devi provided the solution to the above mentioned problems (395 and 15, respectively) before Jensen could copy them down in his notebook. She was a magician in her own right!

On 18 June 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13- digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 * 2,465,099,745,779. These number were picked at random by the Department of Computing at Imperial College London. She correctly answered in 28 seconds. This event was recorded in the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records.

She passed away on 21 April 2013 after prolonged illness. On 4th November 2013, Devi was honoured with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 84th birthday.

The Google Doodle on Shakuntala Devi. Image: Medium

A film on her life titled ‘ Shakuntala Devi’ was released on 1st July 2020. The famous actor, Vidya Balan played Devi in the biopic.

Vidya Balan as Shakuntala Devi. Image: Giphy

I learnt about her story through the movie and it taught me a lot. And here’s what I took away from it:

-Each and every person is talented. All that we have to do is search for our own talent and show it to the world. 

-We should look at our mothers as women and not only as a mother.

-There is always a way for a will. 

I hope you can discover some of the movie and the story’s magic, too!

Image: Giphy

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