During my childhood, there were only two things that could function faster than a computer one Chacha Chaudhary’s brain and the other was Shakuntala Devi. I did not care much about Pran’s sub-standard comics but Shakuntala Devi’s mathematical abilities was something else. Something beyond comprehension and almost bordering on the mythical. But the evidence was there to see, as in this January 26, 1977 news report in The Miami News.

Shakuntala Devi (1929-2013): 1977 newspaper clipping on her mathematical prowess
And the answer is…
The problem written on the blackboard is this: Find the 23rd root of a 201-digit number. Shakuntala Devi a renowned mathematician, ciphered the problem yesterday before a crowd of math lovers in the auditorium of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex.
It took four minutes for a professor to write the problem on the board, and it took more than a minute for a Univac computer to figure out the answer. Ms. Devi got it in 50 seconds. The answer: 546372891. Easy.

I was a little let down on discovering via a classified ad in a newspaper that the maths prodigy had turned into an astrologer. I am now glad that she won’t be remembered for whatever predictions she made in her astrological career but for the astounding mathematical calculations that she performed in a matter of seconds.

Shakuntala Devi died following respiratory problems on Sunday, April 21, 2013 in Bangalore. She was 83.

Categories: People