Shakuntala Devi :The ‘Human Computer’
Shakuntala Devi earned the title of ‘Human Computer’ for her exceptional skill of difficult and complex mental computing ability, faster than any electronics device available at her time. She was born on 4th November, 1929 in Bangalore (presently known as Bengaluru in Karnataka, India). She belonged to a conventional South Indian Brahmin family. Her father, Sundararaja Rao, was associated with a circus company and there he used serve as animal trainer, trapeze artist and juggler.
Childhood and Early Life:
Rao explored her daughter’s special mathematical ability in card-trick when she was only three years of age. Though she did not receive any formal education, her innate talent for mental calculation since her childhood. In hope of extra fortune, Mr. Rao brought little Shakuntala at different places to display her special talent in road shows, leaving his job at the circus company. Her first major performance was at the age of six only when she visited the University of Mysore to display her talent. From this event her career as a mental mathematician began and continued till the end of her life. Thus she became the sole bread-earner for her family at very young age.
As Shakuntala Devi enjoyed celebrity status since her childhood, she travelled across the globe to showcase her talent. Her reputation rose so high that she was interviewed on BBC in the year of 1950. There she faced a notorious humiliation by the programme host. Though her answer of a mathematical problem was indeed correct, it was announced and proved to be wrong initially. Although, shortly after the mechanical error was admitted by the authority and her answer was validated.
In 1960, Shakuntala Devi married a Calcutta (nowadays Kolkata) based IAS officer, Mr. Paritosh Banerji. As the marriage was based on mutual consent, initially they spent times happily. But different problems crept into their relationship as time passed on. In the meantime the couple was blessed with a daughter, Anupama Banerji. After the birth of their daughter, their conjugal relationship hit the worst time ever. Ultimately they got officially separated in the year of 1979 citing personal problems.
Career as a Mental Calculator:
Though Shakuntala Devi became a celebrity at a very young age, her career hit its zenith during 1970’s -1990’s. At the Southern Methodist University, in 1977, she correctly answered twenty third root of a two-hundred and one digit in 50 seconds only where as the fastest available computer, UNIVAC 1101, took sixty-two seconds to answer, and the correct answer was 546372891. Her reputation continued to amplify as she quite phenomenally answered correctly the multiplication of two thirteen digit number in twenty eight seconds only at Imperial College, London on 18th June, 1980. For this deed, her name was recorded in The Guinness Book of World Records in the year of 1982.
In 1988, Prof. Arthur Jensen of the University of California (in the Department of Educational Psychology) tested and studied her skills in mental calculation. What he found was an amazing result that Shakuntala Devi was not just able to calculate the cube root of a eight digit number and the seventh root of a nine digit number also, rather she solved it before Prof. Jensen could copy it completely on a paper.
A Genius as a ‘Calendar Calculator’ :
Not only in mental arithmetic calculation, but Shakuntala Devi had excellent capability in finding out a proper day of a certain date also. For this excellent quality she used to meet many clients daily as there was no such provision for finding out a particular day either on computer or Internet, rather it was limited to almanac, which was hard to find for commoners.
Title of ‘Human Computer’:
Shakuntala Devi earned the title of the ‘Human Computer’ her excellent mental calculation skills and tons of International accolades. But, she was not pleased with this title as she believed in the supremacy of human mind. She was a very liberal woman believing in free and fair expression of mind. She always held human mind to be incomparable with computers as the former is more capable of performing better.
Attempt in Astrology:
Shakuntala Devi tried her hands at Astrology also. She put her mathematical ability in astrological calculation. For this ability she had numerous International clients and she used to answer three questions regarding their lives. Her book on Astrology is titled, Astrology for You.
Shakuntala Devi entered into politics in 1980. She had enough guts to fight against former Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi at Medak. Though she was defeated in the contest, Shakuntala Devi was spirited enough to criticize her heavy-weight opponent openly.
Shakuntala Devi will be revered forever not for her phenomenal mental capabilities only, rather she had multi-faceted talents in other fields too as this write up has briefly discussed already, namely in Astrology, calendar calculation, political endeavour, creative writing etc. She had affinity in crime fiction also and published a book titled Perfect Murder. She had penned more than ten books during her lifetime. She was also interested in gender studies and published a book in the same field too, which was quite striking and a blow for the so called “conventional society”. She succumbed to a cardiac arrest on 21st April, 2013. She was such a celebrated and widely acknowledged woman that a Bollywood movie, based on her biography, was released in 2020, and it was an instant hit.