Shakuntala Devi, a luminary in the realm of mathematics, graced the world with her presence on November 4, 1929, in Bangalore, Karnataka. Her story is one of exceptional talent and an unparalleled knack for complex mathematical calculations, performed swiftly in her mind, often surpassing the speed of the computers available during her era.

Born into humble beginnings, Shakuntala's father, employed in a circus, discovered her prodigious talent at a tender age of three. He imparted card tricks to her, inadvertently unveiling her incredible aptitude. Eventually, leaving the circus, he showcased her exceptional abilities in road shows, capturing the awe of audiences. Despite financial constraints preventing formal education, Shakuntala's brilliance shone brightly.

In an interview with Aaj Ki Khabar, she attributed her remarkable gift to divine grace, stating that God bestowed this extraordinary talent upon her. Notably, during the 1980s, Shakuntala Devi ventured into politics, contesting Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate from Mumbai South and Medak in Andhra Pradesh. Her political journey even saw her challenging the then-former Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

In 1988, Arthur Jensen, a distinguished American psychologist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a series of tests to fathom Shakuntala Devi's extraordinary skills. Despite rigorous testing, the exact mechanism underlying her exceptional mental calculation abilities remained elusive to objective analysis, adding an air of mystique to her mathematical genius.

The journey of being a ‘human computer’….

The mathematical prodigy of remarkable prowess, commenced her astounding journey at a mere six years old, showcasing her extraordinary talent in a major performance held at the University of Mysore. As narrated by The New York Times, she assumed the role of the primary breadwinner for her family at a tender age, shouldering immense responsibilities. The inaugural exhibition of her remarkable abilities at the University of Mysore marked the inception of her marathon of public performances.

In 1977, Shakuntala Devi astounded the audience at the Southern Methodist University by swiftly calculating the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in a mere 50 seconds. Notably, this feat outpaced the then-fastest computer, Univac 1108, which took 62 seconds to achieve the same result.

A monumental achievement in her illustrious career was documented in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1982. In a dazzling display of her mathematical prowess, she calculated the product of two randomly assigned 13-digit numbers in less than half a minute, a feat demonstrated at Imperial College, London.

In 1988, Arthur Jensen, a distinguished American psychologist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted an array of tests on Shakuntala Devi's extraordinary skills. While the precise mechanism behind her exceptional mental calculation abilities eluded objective analysis, Jensen surmised that extensive practice in a specific field likely played a pivotal role in her development. He noted that Devi perceived large numbers differently from the average individual, undergoing rapid transformations, often simplifying the numbers upon visualizing them.

Apart from her proficiency in mathematical calculations, Shakuntala Devi exhibited an exceptional ability in calendrical calculations, enabling her to determine the weekday for any date within the last century. She documented some of her methods and techniques for mental multiplication and calendar calculations in her book 'Figuring: The Joy of Mathematics'.

Her extraordinary accomplishments in the realm of mathematics earned her the esteemed title of 'Human Computer'. However, Shakuntala Devi remained humble, underscoring her belief that the human mind far surpasses computers in its boundless capabilities, making any comparison between the two inadequate. Expanding her horizons, she ventured into the field of astrology, utilizing her mathematical aptitude to delve into the intricate world of celestial predictions.

Source / Image Credit: Feminism In India , Homegrown