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Mathematician extraordinaire

Prodigious mathemagician Shakuntala Devi spells out her purpose of life to make Maths an affable and joyful experience for everybody, specially for children through the proposed Maths Varsity she intends to start in Hyderabad.


CASTING A SPELL: Shakuntala Devi. - Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

SHE ADDS a 16-digit number with another one and multiplies the result with an equal array of numbers almost instantaneously, finds the cube root of the resultant and pops up with an answer in just about the time taken for a wink. Humanly not possible as even to ask the question would, in its shortest possibility, take a minute. Rated as one in 58 million for her stupendous mathematical feats by one of the fastest super-computers ever invented - - the Univac-1108 - - Shakuntala Devi is a genius par excellence.

Human computer for her, a brain that can work out a 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 12 seconds less than the Univac-1108, sure will be a gross understatement. But perhaps there isn't any better title for a person for whom solving complex mathematical problems is child's play.

Doubling up as an astrologer in her spare time, Shakuntala Devi equates the science of foretelling to mathematics. "Astrology and mathematics are so analogous.

In fact, they are complementary to each other as both deal in numbers," she says. The prodigious expert, who hails from a simple orthodox Kannada Brahmin family, is interestingly, a culinary expert, too. "I have authored many books on cookery," she says modestly.

A Guinness record holder, sexagenarian Devi inspires awe in many but remains unsurpassable in her own field of numbers. Call her a mathematician extraordinaire or a mathemagician, she modestly accepts her ignorance to use a computer. "Believe it or not, I have never learnt to use an abacus," she says in a hushed tone. "God's gift. A divine quality," is how Devi accredits her unique distinction that began showing visibility since the age of three. She informs that none in her family showed any signs of the same head for figures. "Not even remotely, although my dad was a stage magician," she adds.

Mathematical feats, which are even beyond a normal human brain to comprehend, are solved by her so effortlessly, that pitting her brain against the fastest mainframes and super computers and beating them almost always, has become an intense passion with her. Astounding scientists and academicians all around the world with her remarkable feats, the maths wizard is now here in our very own Hyderabad and has expressed her desire to set up a Maths varsity here which would carry on her "legacy" of popularising mathematics among people.

"I have asked the chief minister for a grant of 100 acres land for the University and he has approved of the idea," Shakuntala Devi claims. "I will force juvenile delinquents, child labourers and child beggars to join my academy so that they can also become Nobel laureates one day," she dreams as her eyes gleam in excitement about the whole project.

"I just pray that I can finish off the entire project before my death. In a way, the varsity, which I propose to start, will be a global seat of learning for mathematics and will be my humble contribution to the world," Devi gushes adding that the emphasis will be on Vedic mathematics so that the glorious tradition of Indian mathematics is preserved.

For a person so passionate about numbers, who has never had any formal education, how does it feel to have won so many accolades and teach mathematical shortcuts to eminent experts? "God has given me this quality for the benefit of others," the wizard interjects almost at once. "The purpose of my life is to make everybody, specially children, enjoy Maths as an affable and joyful experience," she concludes.

SOUVIK CHOWDHURY

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