Shakuntala Devi is a name that conjures images of numbers and everything mathematical. Born in an orthodox family, she discovered her love for numbers very early. It might be hard to believe that a person, who can multiply several long digit numbers and do the most complex calculations in seconds, has not had a formal education. Hailed as a human computer, she is also the recipient of the Ramanujam Mathematical Genius Award and is a Guinness world record holder. Bindu Gopal Rao caught up with the septuagenarian in her plush 4th floor flat that is adorned with pictures of herself with celebrities from sports, movies and politics. Excerpts.
When did you know your ability with numbers was extraordinary?
I was just three years old when I started doing sums mentally. Then slowly I started doing a lot of shows. Basically, I believe that this is a gift I have been given by God.
What has been your most memorable achievement?
It has to be my achievement in the Guinness Book of Records. It was at the computer department of Imperial College, London, and I had cold feet. But when I went on stage I had God’s blessings. I was asked to multiply two 13-digit numbers picked at random, I answered in 28 seconds.
Tell us about your books.
I have authored 14 books, my latest book, Super Memory, was released three months ago. It teaches one how to remember names and faces by using the untapped power of ones mind. My next book will be on simplified Vedic maths but that will take time.
Tell us about your forays into education?
I have started the Shakuntala Devi Pre-University College and Shakuntala Devi International Institute of Management Sciences that offers pre-university, bachelor of commerce and bachelor of business management courses. We also plan to start a full-fledged MBA programme. The college is still in its infancy. I also hope to start a mathematics university in Hyderabad.
What is your take on Maths in today’s digital world?
Maths gives life. Computers may come and go but maths will remain the same. I feel maths should be taught in a pleasant way rather than making it painful. I have tried to narrate this in my book In the Wonderland of Numbers, which is told through the eyes of a girl child. Someone wanted to make this into a movie but I was not convinced to change the story angle to make the girl a teenager.
What is your message for the readers of India Perspectives?
I would say love maths. It is the only truth in the whole world. If you add 2 to 2 it is 4 in China, Russia and India — it’s a universal truth. I hope to continue to convert non-lovers of maths into lovers of the subject.