Shakuntala Devi: Number crunching genius

Maths genius Shakuntala Devi was far from cold and calculating when she visited Manipal University, Dubai campus. Amelia Naidoo and Jija Jose report.

  • Maths Genius Shakuntala Devi hosted math workshops for young and old alike at Manipal University, Dubai and De Image Credit: Megan Hirons/Gulf News
  • Shakuntala Devi was born in 1939 in Bangalore, India. She received her early lessons in mathematics from her g Image Credit: Megan Hirons/Gulf News


Maths whiz Shakuntala Devi had students and staff in stitches within moments of coming on stage at Manipal University, Dubai campus, for a demonstration of her abilities recently. "I was performing at a New Jersey high school and I asked a class of 2,000 students ‘how many of you love mathematics?' and only one hand went up. And that was the hand of the maths teacher!" she said.

"This group is as not as bad as that," she added, but still chided a faculty member for not raising his hand.
Throughout her workshop she was full of banter and fun while at the same time imparting tips and advice on coping better with mathematics.

Lightning-fast mind

For Devi's first demonstration she asked the audience to write down a number and was able to find the cube root of it within seconds.

The next display of her mathematical ability was to ask the audience what their date of birth or wedding was and without any aid, was able to state the day they were born or married on. Amazingly Devi was able to tell the day, despite some of them being decades ago, with leap years adding to the confusion.

However, she did make one mistake and explained that even the slightest disturbance in terms of noise and any other distraction threw her concentration and affected her mental calculations.

Thus it was important that the audience remained very quiet she said. "In order to do calculations this fast you need a very clear mind."

The maths genius also shared tips for improving memory and concentration. These are:
- Concentration and focus;
- Repeating what you have learnt five times;
- And most importantly self-confidence in everything you do.


Staff and students were keen on asking Devi questions. One of them was about her plans to build a mathematics institute in Bangalore, India.

She said the Indian Government had given her land in Bangalore and she contributed most of her assets to its establishment. Devi said she was trying to raise more funds for the institute, which she plans to have completed in a year from now.

"How do you do the calculations? Do you visualise the numbers in your head," asked one faculty member. Devi replied: "It just comes out. I don't have time to think about the process." Devi has written 14 books on mathematics and one on modern history.

The maths genius advised parents present to get their children interested in the subject, by reading some of her books. They include Awaken the Genius in your Child, and Awaken the Mad Genius in your Child.

According to Devi, her book Wonderland of Numbers was used as the basis of an Indian film. However she didn't receive any credit for it. "My lawyers said I should sue them but I said no. I think it is the greatest compliment to me," she said.

Devi said her books are also used for aptitude tests for a variety of programmes including the MBA (Master's in Business Administration). Having completed neither high school nor university, this is a source of great pride to her, she added.

Feats of a math genius
- Shakuntala Devi was born in 1939 in Bangalore, India. She received her early lessons in mathematics from her grandfather. Showing an extraordinary affinity for numbers at the age of three, she became an expert in complex mental arithmetic at the age of five.
- At six, Devi demonstrated her talents at the University of Mysore, before a large gathering of mathematics professors and students. With lightning precision, she gave correct answers, mentally working out calculations for the most complicated problems.
- At the age of eight, she dumbfounded math academics at Annamalai University.
- In 1977, Devi mentally calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number. On June 18, 1980, Devi gave the product of two, 13-digit figures in 28 seconds. She multiplied 7,686,369,774,870 with 2,465,099,745,779. The numbers were picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. Her correct answer –18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 – helped Devi enter the 1995 Guinness Book of Records.

- In recent years Devi has been travelling around the globe making presentations. She dislikes being called the 'human computer' as she strongly believes that people have minds better than any computer.
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