Did You Know These 8 Interesting Facts About the Human Computer, AKA the real Shakuntala Devi?

Shakuntala Devi released today on Amazon Prime and we were blown away by Vidya Balan’s performance. The movie, written and directed by Anu Menon, is based on the world renowned mathematician, Shakuntala Devi. Now while it is unfortunate that a lot of youngsters today are only discovering the math genius because of the Bollywood movie, it is also a great time to educate the next generation on this Guinness-record holding Indian genius.

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The movie tells us how Shakuntala Devi was never formally educated, but did you know that it was her grandfather who taught her mathematics every single day? Yeah. That’s how she had her first maths “performance” of sorts, at the University of Mysore when she was just 6 years old!

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Did you know that Shakuntala Devi’s father was a trapeze artist and a lion tamer in a circus? Devi was also the daughter from his third wife. In fact, when she was 3 years old she was sitting in a circus tent with her father — a tightrope walker and magician, among other things — surrounded by all fantastical circus things, when he saw her play remarkably with cards. At that young age her brain was already toying with numbers.

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We all know Shakuntala Devi as the human computer, the maths whiz. But did you know that she has dabbled around as a writer of academic and culinary works? Her books (besides the maths ones) include The World of Homosexuals (1977), cookbooks, Astrology for You to name a few.

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Ever since she became an expert at mental math calculations, solving highly complex arithmetic equations in seconds, she developed a new concept in mathematics called “Mind Dynamics”.

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Balan in the movie portrays how Devi stood against Indira Gandhi during the elections in 1980. Shakuntala Devi said that her reason behind doing so was to “defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs Gandhi”.

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Shakuntala Devi was a famous astrologer, and there’s nothing surprising about this, really. Her ability to solve complex mathematical problems lent itself to her ability to read people’s futures. Astrology is all about calculations based on planetary positions, the correct time, date and numerical meaning of each star and planet. An article from a newspaper in 1976 even said that ” If you gave her any date in the last century, she would tell you what day of the week it fell on!” Just as how Devi never got a maths answer wrong, she also never made an inaccurate prediction!

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We know that Shakuntala Devi was in the Guinness Book of World Records, but do you know how she got in? More specifically, do you know which math sum she solved to correctly get in? It was at the Imperial College of London and the question at hand was the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers picked randomly by the computer:
7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779
She answered in, of course, correctly in 28 seconds:
18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.
The only person in the world who could calculate that quickly and effortlessly, Shakuntala Devi was then honoured in the Guinness Book of World Records.

There you have it. A world genius, Guinness record holder, astrologer, chef, politician, mother, wife, daughter, author, and most importantly, a mathematician. Shakuntala Devi was truly the jack of all trades — and master of all, too!

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