Popularly known as ‘The Human Computer’,Shakuntala Devi is a household name,which invokes much pride and honour in the hearts of many an Indian.She earned this title,when she historically beat a computer at complicated calculations during a TV Show hosted by the BBC.
Shakuntala Devi, had exceptional mathematical ability and could compute cubic roots, higher roots, and even calendar calculations of this century almost instantly. This talent bagged her a spot in the Guinness Book of World Record in 1982 , for multiplying two 13-digit numbers accurately within a whopping 28 seconds. Devi’s record for ‘fastest human computation’ stood undefeated for more than 40 years, and was broken by twenty one year old Neelakanta Bhanu Prakash.
Shakuntala Devi’s extraordinary skills paved her a path to international fame, fortune and laud. Countless experiments were conducted to determine why Devi, who had received no proper schooling or education could perform such remarkable feats. They surprisingly revealed that her abilities were not due to any superior brain functions, but were the result of how she perceived the world of numbers, which could be attained if nurtured at a young age.
Born to circus performers, Devi discovered and nurtured her talents through card tricks. Her father, who understood her gift, set up various math shows in which she performed. These served as the stepping stones for improving her skills and expanding her knowledge.
Devi quickly rose to fame and authored several books and novels on mathematics and astrology. ‘The World of Homosexuals’, which brought her much criticism, is the first study on the subject in India.
An active political and social reformer, she also contested against Indira Gandhi in the 1980 Lok Sabha elections.
While the world praised Devi for her exceptional abilities, Anu Menon’s much acclaimed movie, ‘Shakuntala Devi’, which was released this year, sheds light on the endless criticisms, struggles and sacrifices Devi faced, as a woman making her mark on the world, amidst the pressure of conforming to norms of the society. The movie, which is narrated from the perspective of her daughter, is a biographical rendition of how Devi struggled to find the perfect balance, of pursuing passion and marriage and motherhood all while in the public eye, and stands as a heart-warming and timeless representation of the struggles of the Indian Woman.