November 4, 1929|
|Died||April 21, 2013
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Cause of death
|Respiratory and cardiac problems|
|Other names||Human computer|
Shakuntala Devi (November 4, 1929 – April 21, 2013) was an Indian writer and mental calculator, popularly known as the "human computer". A child prodigy, her talents eventually earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records. As a writer, Devi wrote a number of books, including novels and non-fiction texts about mathematics, puzzles, and astrology. She also wrote what is considered the first study of homosexuality in India; it treated homosexuality in an understanding light and is considered pioneering.
Shakuntala Devi was born in Bangalore, India, to an orthodox Kannada Brahmin family. Her father rebelled against becoming a temple priest and instead joined a circus where he worked as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker and magician. He discovered his daughter's ability to memorize numbers while teaching her a card trick when she was about three 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. By the age of six she demonstrated her calculation and memorization abilities at the University of Mysore.
In 1944, Devi moved to London with her father.
She returned to India in the mid-1960s and married Paritosh Banerji, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service from Kolkata. They were divorced in 1979. Devi returned to Bangalore in the early 1980s.
Devi traveled the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents, including a tour of Europe in 1950 and a performance in New York City in 1976. In 1988, she traveled to the U.S. to have her abilities studied by Arthur Jensen, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Jensen tested her performance of several tasks, including the calculation of large numbers. Examples of the problems presented to Devi included calculating the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Jensen reported that Devi provided the solution to the aforementioned problems (395 and 15, respectively) before Jensen could copy them down in his notebook. Jensen published his findings in the academic journal Intelligence in 1990.
Death and legacy
In April 2013, Devi was admitted to a hospital in Bangalore with respiratory problems. Over the following two weeks she suffered from complications of the heart and kidneys. She died in the hospital on April 21, 2013. She was 83 years old. She is survived by her daughter, Anupama Banerji.
- In 1977, at Southern Methodist University, she was asked to give the 23rd root of a 201-digit number; she answered in 50 seconds. Her answer—546,372,891—was confirmed by calculations done at the U.S. Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.
- On June 18, 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers—7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779—picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds. This event is mentioned in the 1982 Guinness Book of Records. Writer Steven Smith states that the result is "so far superior to anything previously reported that it can only be described as unbelievable".
Book on homosexuality
In 1977, she wrote The World of Homosexuals, the first study of homosexuality in India. In the documentary For Straights Only, she says that her interest in the topic came out of her marriage to a homosexual man and subsequent desire to look at homosexuality more closely in order to understand it.
The book, considered "pioneering", features interviews with two young Indian homosexual men, a male couple in Canada seeking legal marriage, a temple priest who explains his views on homosexuality, and a review of the existing literature on homosexuality. It ends with a call for decriminalising homosexuality, and "full and complete acceptance—not tolerance and not sympathy". The book however went mostly unnoticed at the time.
Some of her books include:
- Astrology for You (New Delhi: Orient, 2005). ISBN 978-81-222-0067-6
- Book of Numbers (New Delhi: Orient, 2006). ISBN 978-81-222-0006-5
- Figuring: The Joy of Numbers (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), ISBN 978-0-06-011069-7, OCLC 4228589
- In the Wonderland of Numbers (New Delhi: Orient, 2006). ISBN 978-81-222-0399-8
- Mathability: Awaken the Math Genius in Your Child (New Delhi: Orient, 2005). ISBN 978-81-222-0316-5
- More Puzzles to Puzzle You (New Delhi: Orient, 2006). ISBN 978-81-222-0048-5
- Perfect Murder (New Delhi: Orient, 1976), OCLC 3432320
- Puzzles to Puzzle You (New Delhi: Orient, 2005). ISBN 978-81-222-0014-0
- Super Memory: It Can Be Yours (New Delhi: Orient, 2011). ISBN 978-81-222-0507-7; (Sydney: New Holland, 2012). ISBN 978-1-74257-240-6, OCLC 781171515
- The World of Homosexuals (Vikas Publishing House, 1977), ISBN 978-0706904789
- "Shakuntala Devi strove to simplify maths for students". The Hindu. April 21, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- Pandya, Haresh (April 21, 2013). "Shakuntala Devi, ‘Human Computer’ Who Bested the Machines, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- "Obituary: Shakuntala Devi". The Telegraph. April 22, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- Jensen, Arthur R. (July–September 1990). "Speed of information processing in a calculating prodigy". Intelligence (University of California, Berkeley, United States) 14 (3): 259–274. doi:10.1016/0160-2896(90)90019-P. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- "Obituary: India's 'human computer' Shakuntala Devi". BBC News. April 22, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- "Science: Numbers Game". Time. July 14, 1952. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- IBTimes Staff Reporter (April 22, 2013). "Math Genius and Guinness Record Holder Shakuntala Devi Passes Away at Age 83". International Business Times. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
- Aditi Mishra; Siddarth Kumar Jain (April 22, 2013). "She made learning maths as thrilling as magic". The Bangalore Mirror. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- "India's math wizard, Shakuntala Devi". Yahoo! India News. April 22, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- TNN (November 4, 2013) "Shakuntala Devi's 84th birthday celebrated with a doodle". The Times of India. Retrieved on November 4, 2013.
- Smith, Steven Bradley (1983). The Great Mental Calculators: The Psychology, Methods, and Lives of Calculating Prodigies, Past and Present. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231056400.
- Subir K Kole (2007-07-11). "Globalizing queer? AIDS, homophobia and the politics of sexual identity in India". Globalization and Health 3: 8. doi:10.1186/1744-8603-3-8. PMC 2018684. PMID 17623106: "The first academic book on Indian homosexuals appeared in 1977 (The World of Homosexuals) written by Shakuntala Devi, the mathematics wiz kid who was internationally known as the human computer. This book treated homosexuality in a positive light and reviewed the socio-cultural and legal situation of homosexuality in India and contrasted that with the gay liberation movement then taking place in the USA."
- Shakuntala Devi (1977). The World of Homosexuals. Vikas Publishing House. ISBN 9780706904789
- R.I.P. Shakuntala Devi, math-evangelist and ally of the queer community
- Ruth Vanita; Saleem Kidwai, eds. (2008). Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History. Penguin UK. ISBN 9788184759693.
- Sherry Joseph (2005), Social Work Practice and Men Who Have Sex With Men, p. 64, ISBN 9780761933526
- Subhash Chandra (March 2008). "Review of "The Construction of Queer Culture in India: Pioneers and Landmarks"". Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific (16):
For Garcia-Arroyo the beginning of the debate on homosexuality in the twentieth century is made with Shakuntala Devi's book The World of Homosexuals published in 1977. [...] Shakuntala Devi's (the famous mathematician) [sic] book appeared. This book went almost unnoticed, and did not contribute to queer discourse or movement. [...] The reason for this book not making its mark was because Shakuntala Devi was famous for her mathematical wizardry and nothing of substantial import in the field of homosexuality was expected from her. Another factor for the indifference meted out to the book could perhaps be a calculated silence because the cultural situation in India was inhospitable for an open and elaborate discussion on this issue.
- Jeffrey S. Siker (2006). Homosexuality and Religion. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 127. ISBN 9780313330889: "In her 1977 book, mathematician Shakuntala Devi interviewed..."