Legendary Mathematics wizard Shakuntala Devi, dubbed as the world’s fastest ‘human computer’ and who made complex mental calculations as a child prodigy, died at a hospital here today following respiratory problems.
Devi, who has enthralled fans with her prowess for decades, was 83.
“She passed away at Bangalore Hospital,”Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation Public Trust Trustee D C Shivadev told PTI. Doctors declared her dead at 8.15 AM, he said.
Devi was hospitalised a couple of weeks ago for critical respiratory problems, Shivadev said. “She developed heart and kidney problems later,” he added.
A household name in India, Devi cast a spell adding a 16-digit number with another one and multipliying the result with an equal array of numbers almost instantaneously, finding the cube root of the resultant and pops up with an answer in just about the time taken for a wink.
Devi, who had no formal education and who simply picked up reading and writing, had the ingenous ability to tell the day of the week of any given date in the last century in a jiffy.
“God’s gift. A divine quality,” is how Devi had once felt of her unique distinction that began showing visibility since the age of three. She has been quoted as saying that none in her family showed any signs of the same head for figures. “Not even remotely, although my dad was a stage magician.”
Rated as one in 58 million for her stupendous mathematical feats by one of the fastest super-computers ever invented–the Univac-1108–, Devi believed in using grey cells to silicon chips.
Born on November four, 1939, Devi figured in the Guiness Book of World Record for her outstanding ability and wrote numerous books like ‘Fun with Numbers’, ‘Astrology for You’, ‘Puzzles to Puzzle You’, and ‘Mathablit’.
Hailing from a simple orthodox Kannada Brahmin family, Devi’s father was a circus performer who did trapeze, tightrope and cannonball shows. He had rebelled against becoming a temple priest.
Devi was also an astrologer and gave remedies purportedly based on date and time of birth.
It was while Devi was playing cards with her father at the tender age of three that he found his daughter’s calculation abilities. It turned out that she beat him not by sleight of hand, but by memorising the cards.
At the age of six, she demonstrated her calculation skills in her first major public performance at the University of Mysore and two years later, she again proved herself successful as a child prodigy at Annamalai University.
However, despite apprehensions in some quarters, Devi did not lose her calculating ability when she turned adult like other prodigies such as Truman Henry Safford.
In 1977, Devi extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number mentally. In the same year in Dallas, she competed with a computer to see who gives the cube root of 188138517 faster and she won.
On June 18, 1980 she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She answered the question in 28 seconds flat. This event is mentioned in the 1995 Guinness Book of Records.
“Why do children dread mathematics?”, she was once asked. “Because of the wrong approach. Because it is looked at as a subject,” pat came her reply.
“Mathematics is life, you have math in everything, right from time to your date of birth to the food you eat and the air you breathe,” she states. The right age to train children in mathematics is six, says Shakuntala, who sparkled at three.