4 November 1929|
|Died||21 April 2013
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
|Other names||Human computer|
Shakuntala Devi (4 November 1929 – 21 April 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 memorise 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 memorisation 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. In 1980 she contested in the Lok Sabha elections as an independent, from Bombay South and from Medak in Andhra Pradesh. In Medak she stood against Indira Gandhi, saying she wanted to "defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs. Gandhi"; she stood ninth, with 6514 votes (1.47% of the votes). Devi returned to Bangalore in the early 1980s.
Devi travelled 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 travelled to the US 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 21 April 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 US Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.
- On 18 June 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 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. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- Pandya, Haresh (21 April 2013). "Shakuntala Devi, 'Human Computer' Who Bested the Machines, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "Obituary: Shakuntala Devi". The Telegraph. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 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 9 July 2013.
- "Obituary: India's 'human computer' Shakuntala Devi". BBC News. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "Science: Numbers Game". Time. 14 July 1952. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- IBTimes Staff Reporter (22 April 2013). "Math Genius and Guinness Record Holder Shakuntala Devi Passes Away at Age 83". International Business Times. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- Aditi Mishra; Siddarth Kumar Jain (22 April 2013). "She made learning maths as thrilling as magic". The Bangalore Mirror. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "India's math wizard, Shakuntala Devi". Yahoo! India News. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- The Election Archives, Volumes 65–70, Shiv Lal, 1982, pp. 111,64, "Two other prominent independents were film comedian I. S. Johar and the mathematician, Mrs Shakuntala Devi. I. S. Johar contested from Bombay south and New Delhi and Mrs Shakuntala Devi from Bombay south and Medak in Andhra Pradesh."
- "Bombay's Women", Himmat Volume 16 Part 1, 1979, p. 10, ""An amusing sidelight of the contest in Bombay is also provided by a woman – the mathematical genius Shakuntala Devi, who is standing as an independent from Bombay South. Mrs. Devi has also filed her nomination from Medak in Andhra Pradesh, where she is fighting Mrs Indira Gandhi. Despite her mathematical mind, Mrs. Devi, I am afraid, just does not add up. From her 17th floor Cuffe Parade flat she claims that she is "100 per cent" sure that she will win from both constituencies. She is standing as an independent because "parties don't want intelligent people in the party". To her being Prime Minister or President "is something like being a housekeeper". By entering the fray she wants to "deglamourise" politics. Politics should not be a full-time affair, she feels, and more like her should enter. Incidentally, she is known to have approached the Congress (I) for a ticket because, as she herself admits, she "had the impression that Mrs Gandhi alone would fight for democracy in the country". She changed her mind suddenly, she says, when Sanjay Gandhi was given a ticket to stand from Amethi in UP; "I realised that Mrs. Gandhi had fooled me the way she had so many people. I saw all sycophants surrounding her." So now Mrs. Devi wants to "defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs. Gandhi"."
- Agarala Easwara Reddi (1985), Lok Sabha Elections, 1977 & 1980, in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu Academy of Political Science, p. 175, "9. Smt. Shakuntala Devi (Ind) (the well known mathematical prodigy) 6514 1.47 / 10. Sardar Jagat Singh (Ind) 1430 0.32"
- TNN (4 November 2013) "Shakuntala Devi's 84th birthday celebrated with a doodle". The Times of India. Retrieved on 4 November 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 (11 July 2007). "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..."