Shakuntala Devi

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Shakuntala Devi
Born(1929-11-04)4 November 1929
Bangalore, Kingdom of Mysore, British India (Now in Karnataka, India)
Died21 April 2013(2013-04-21) (aged 83)
Other namesHuman Computer
Paritosh Bannerji
(m. 1964; div. 1979)

Shakuntala Devi (4 November 1929 – 21 April 2013) was an Indian mental calculator and writer, popularly known as the "Human Computer". Her talent earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records. However, the certificate for the record was given posthumously on 30 July 2020, despite Devi achieving her world record on 18 June 1980 at Imperial College, London. Devi was a precocious child and she demonstrated her arithmetic abilities at the University of Mysore without any formal education.

Devi strove to simplify numerical calculations for students.[1] She wrote a number of books in her later years, including novels as well as texts about mathematics, puzzles, and astrology. She wrote the book The World of Homosexuals, which is considered the first study of homosexuality in India.[2][3] She saw homosexuality in a positive light and is considered a pioneer in the field.[2]

Early life

Shakuntala Devi was born on 4 November 1929 at Bangalore, Karnataka.[4][5] to a Kannada Brahmin family.[6][7] Her father, C V Sundararaja Rao,[8] worked as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker and magician in a circus.[4][5][9][10][11][12] He discovered his daughter's ability to memorise numbers while teaching her a card trick when she was about three years old.[10][4][11] Her father left the circus and took her on road shows that displayed her ability at calculation.[4] She did this without any formal education.[10][5] At the age of six she demonstrated her arithmetic abilities at the University of Mysore.[4][5]

In 1944, Devi moved to London, United Kingdom.[13][14]

Mental calculator

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.[4] 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. Jensen tested her performance at 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.[5][15] 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.[5][15] Jensen published his findings in the academic journal Intelligence in 1990.[5][15][16]

In 1977, at Southern Methodist University, she gave the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds.[10][15] Her answer, which was 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, which took a longer time than for her to do the same.[17]

On 18 June 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers – 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779. These numbers were picked at random by the Department of Computing at Imperial College London. She correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds.[4][5] This event was recorded in the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records.[4][5] Writer Steven Smith commented, "the result is so far superior to anything previously reported that it can only be described as unbelievable."[17]

Shakuntala Devi explained many of the methods she used to do mental calculations in her 1977 book Figuring: The Joy of Numbers.[18]

Book on homosexuality

In 1977, she wrote The World of Homosexuals, the first published academic study[2] of homosexuality in India,[19] for which she was criticised. In the documentary For Straights Only, she said that her interest in the topic was because of her marriage to a homosexual man and her desire to look at homosexuality more closely to understand it.[20]

The book, considered "pioneering",[21] 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.[22] It ends with a call for decriminalisation of homosexuality, and "full and complete acceptance—not tolerance and sympathy".[21] The book, however, went mostly unnoticed at that time.[23]

Personal life

Devi returned to India in the mid-1960s and she married Paritosh Banerji,[24] an officer of the Indian Administrative Service from Kolkata.[25] They divorced in 1979 due to personal problems.[25] In 1980, she contested the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate for Mumbai South and for Medak in Andhra Pradesh (now in Telangana).[26] In Medak she stood against the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,[27] saying she wanted to "defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs. Gandhi";[28] she came ninth, with 6,514 votes (1.47% of the votes).[29] Devi returned to Bangalore in the early 1980s.[25]

In addition to her work as a mental calculator, Devi was a notable astrologer and an author of several books, including cookbooks and novels.[4][11][12] She started with writing short stories and murder mysteries, and had a keen interest in music.[30]

Death and legacy

In April 2013, Devi was admitted to a hospital in Bangalore with severe respiratory problems.[10] Over the following two weeks she had heart and kidney complications.[10][4] She died in the hospital on 21 April 2013.[10][4] She was 83 years old.[4][5] Her daughter Anupama Bannerji is married to Ajay Abhaya Kumar, with whom she has two daughters, and lives in London.[31][5][12][32]

On 4 November 2013, Devi was honoured with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 84th birthday.[33]

A film on her life titled Shakuntala Devi was announced in May 2019.[34][35] The film stars Vidya Balan in the lead title role and features Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh, and Jisshu Sengupta in the supporting roles. Produced by Sony Pictures Networks Productions, the film streamed worldwide on Amazon Prime Video on 31 July 2020.[36][37]

Selected works

  • Perfect Murder. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 1976. OCLC 3432320.
  • Puzzles to Puzzle You. Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 1976. ISBN 978-81-222-0014-0. OCLC 881704076.
  • Figuring: The Joy of Numbers. New York: Harper & Row. 1977. ISBN 978-0-06-011069-7. OCLC 4228589 – via Internet Archive.
  • The World of Homosexuals. New Delhi: Vikas Pub. House. 1977. ISBN 978-0-7069-0478-9. OCLC 3554716.
  • More Puzzles to Puzzle You. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 2004. ISBN 978-81-222-0048-5. OCLC 1194441931 – via Internet Archive.
  • Astrology for You. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 2005. ISBN 978-81-222-0067-6. OCLC 698472904.
  • Mathability: Awaken the Math Genius in Your Child. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 2005. ISBN 978-81-222-0316-5.
  • Book of Numbers: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Numbers but Was Difficult to Understand. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 2006. ISBN 81-222-0006-0. OCLC 931780447.
  • In the Wonderland of Numbers: Maths and Your Child. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 2006. ISBN 978-81-222-0399-8. OCLC 933396051.
  • Super Memory: It Can Be Yours!. New Delhi: Orient Pub. 2012. ISBN 978-81-222-0507-7. OCLC 1225860729 – via Internet Archive.


  1. ^ "Shakuntala Devi strove to simplify maths for students". The Hindu. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b c 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 saw 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."
  3. ^ Mubarak, Salva (13 May 2019). "Get to know Shakuntala Devi, the woman known as the 'human computer'". Vogue India. Mumbai, India: Dilshad Arora. Retrieved 2 August 2019. In 1970s, she wrote The World of Homosexuals, a book that went disappointingly unnoticed at that time, but gained popularity over the years for being one of the earliest studies of our society's understanding of homosexuality.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Pandya, Haresh (21 April 2013). "Shakuntala Devi, 'Human Computer' Who Bested the Machines, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Obituary: Shakuntala Devi". The Telegraph. 22 April 2013. Archived from the original on 23 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  6. ^ closed access "Science: Numbers Game". Time. 14 July 1952. Archived from the original on 25 November 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  7. ^ "'Human computer' Shakuntala Devi dies in Bangalore". Times of India. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  8. ^ "Why Shakuntala's siblings gave up on maths". Deccan Herald. 8 August 2020. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Shakuntala Devi strove to simplify maths for students". The Hindu. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  11. ^ a b c "Obituary: India's 'human computer' Shakuntala Devi". BBC News. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  12. ^ a b c Aditi Mishra; Siddarth Kumar Jain (22 April 2013). "She made learning maths as thrilling as magic". The Bangalore Mirror. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  13. ^ "Remembering Shakuntala Devi, India's 'human computer'". Mid-Day. Mumbai, India. 4 November 2017. Archived from the original on 21 April 2019. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  14. ^ Lohana, Avinash (29 January 2019). "Sanya Malhotra to play Vidya Balan's daughter in Shakuntala". Mumbai Mirror. Mumbai, India. Archived from the original on 21 April 2019. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  15. ^ a b c d 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. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  16. ^ Note that there are easy tricks for getting odd-numbered roots when the root is an integer. See "Tricks of Lightning Calculators", in Mathematical Carnival, by Martin Gardner, Knoff, 1975 and other sources.
  17. ^ a b Smith, Steven Bradley (1983). The Great Mental Calculators: The Psychology, Methods, and Lives of Calculating Prodigies, Past and Present. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231056400.
  18. ^ Devi, Shakuntala (2005). Figuring: The Joy Of Numbers. Orient Paperbacks. ISBN 978-81-222-0038-6.
  19. ^ Shakuntala Devi (1977). The World of Homosexuals. Vikas Publishing House. ISBN 9780706904789.
  20. ^ "R.I.P. Shakuntala Devi, math-evangelist and ally of the queer community". orinam. 21 April 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  21. ^ a b Ruth Vanita; Saleem Kidwai, eds. (2008). Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History. Penguin UK. ISBN 9788184759693.
  22. ^ Sherry Joseph (2005), Social Work Practice and Men Who Have Sex With Men, p. 64, ISBN 9780761933526
  23. ^ 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). This book went almost unnoticed, and did not contribute to queer discourse or movement.
  24. ^ "Shakuntala Devi's life changed after marrying a gay man: The human behind the human computer". India Today. 6 November 2019. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  25. ^ a b c "India's math wizard, Shakuntala Devi". Yahoo! India News. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Lesser Known Facts About Shakuntala Devi, The Human Calculator Whom Vidya Balan Is Essaying in Biopic". HerZindagi English. 16 September 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  28. ^ "Bombay's Women", Himmat Volume 16 Part 1, 1979, p. 10, So now Mrs. Devi wants to "defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs. Gandhi".
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ Mathematical Bonaza, Shakuntala Devi (20 July 2020). "Shakiuntala Devi". Youtube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  31. ^ "When your mom is a genius: Anupama Banerji intv with TNM on Shakuntala Devi". The News Minute. 1 August 2020. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  32. ^ "D.N. Rama Murthy & Another v. Anupama Banerjee & Others".
  33. ^ "Shakuntala Devi's 84th birthday celebrated with a doodle". The Times of India. 4 November 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  34. ^ "Vidya Balan to play Math genius Shakuntala Devi in her next film". The Hindu. 8 May 2019. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  35. ^ "Vidya Balan to play ace mathematician Shakuntala Devi in biopic". 8 May 2019. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  36. ^ "Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi biopic to be released on Amazon Prime, actor 'thrilled to entertain you in unprecedented times'". Hindustan Times. 15 May 2020. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  37. ^ Arora, Akhil (15 May 2020). "Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi Out July 31 on Amazon Prime Video". NDTV Gadgets 360. Retrieved 16 July 2020.

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