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Shakuntala Devi

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Shakuntala Devi

Shakuntala Devi, May 19, 2006
Born November 4, 1929
Bangalore, India
Died April 21, 2013 (aged 83)
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Cause of death Respiratory and cardiac problems
Nationality Indian
Other names Human computer

Shakuntala Devi (Kannada: ಶಕುಂತಲ ದೇವಿ November 4, 1929 – April 21, 2013), popularly known as the "Human Computer", was a child prodigy and mental calculator.[1][2][3][4][5] Her talents earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.[1][2][3]


Shakuntala Devi was born in Bangalore, India,[2][3] to an orthodox Kannada Brahmin family.[1][6][7] Her father rebelled against becoming a temple priest[3] and instead joined a circus where he worked as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker and magician.[1][2][5][8] Devi's father discovered her ability to memorize numbers while teaching her a card trick when she was about three years old.[1][2][5] Her father left the circus and took her on road shows that displayed her ability at number crunching.[2] She was able to do this without any formal education.[1][3] By age six she demonstrated her calculation and memorization abilities at the University of Mysore.[2][3]

In 1944 Devi moved to London with her father.[9] She returned to India in the mid-1960s and married Paritosh Bannerji, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service from Kolkata.[9] She and her husband were divorced in 1979.[9] Devi returned to Bangalore in the early 1980s.[9]

Devi travelled the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents, including a tour of Europe in 1950 and a performance in New York in 1976.[2] In 1988 she returned to the US to have her abilities studied by Arthur Jensen, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Jensen tested her performance at several tasks, including the calculations of large numbers. Examples of the problems presented to Devi were calculating the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375.[3][4] Jensen reported that Devi was able to provide the solution to the aforementioned problems (the answers being 395 and 15 respectively) before Jensen was able to copy them down in his notebook.[3][4] Jensen published his findings in the academic journal Intelligence in 1990.[3][4]

In addition to her work as a mental calculator, Devi was an astrologer and an author of several books, including cookbooks and novels.[2][5][8]

Devi died in April 2013. (See also #Death.)

On November 4, 2013, her 84th birthday, Google paid tribute to her with a Google Doodle that had a calculator font and her picture.[10]


  • In 1977 in the USA she competed with a computer to see who could calculate the cube root of 188,132,517 faster (she won). That same year, at the Southern Methodist University she was asked to give the 23rd root of a 201-digit number; she answered in 50 seconds.[1][4] Her answer—546,372,891—was confirmed by calculations done at the U.S. Bureau of Standards by the Univac 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.[11]
  • On June 18, 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779 picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds.[2][3] This event is mentioned in the 1982 Guinness Book of Records.[2][3]

Book on homosexuality

In 1977, she published the first[12] study of homosexuality in India.[13] In the documentary For Straights Only, she says that her interest in the topic came out of her marriage to a homosexual man, and subsequent desire to look at homosexuality more closely in order to understand it.[14]

The book, considered "pioneering",[15] features interviews with two young Indian homosexual men, a male couple in Canada seeking legal marriage, a temple priest who explains his views on homosexuality, and contains a review of the existing literature on homosexuality. It ends with a call for decriminalising homosexuality, and "full and complete acceptance—not tolerance and not sympathy".[15] According to Subhash Chandra's review of Ana Garcia-Arroyo's book The Construction of Queer Culture in India: Pioneers and Landmarks,[16]

For Garcia-Arroyo the beginning of the debate on homosexuality in the twentieth century is made with Shakuntala Devi's book The World of Homosexuals published in 1977. [...] Shakuntala Devi's (the famous mathematician) book appeared. This book went almost unnoticed, and did not contribute to queer discourse or movement. [...] The reason for this book not making its mark was because Shakuntala Devi was famous for her mathematical wizardry and nothing of substantial import in the field of homosexuality was expected from her. Another factor for the indifference meted out to the book could perhaps be a calculated silence because the cultural situation in India was inhospitable for an open and elaborate discussion on this issue.


In April 2013, Devi was admitted to a hospital in Bangalore, India with respiratory problems.[1] Over the following two weeks she suffered from complications of the heart and kidneys.[1][2] Devi died in hospital on April 21, 2013.[1][2] She was 83 years old.[2][3]

Devi is survived by her daughter, Anupama Banerji.[3][8]


Some of her books include:


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j "Shakuntala Devi strove to simplify maths for students". The Hindu. April 21, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Pandya, Haresh (April 21, 2013). "Shakuntala Devi, ‘Human Computer’ Who Bested the Machines, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Obituary: Shakuntala Devi". The Telegraph. April 22, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Jensen, Arthur R. (July–September 1990). "Speed of information processing in a calculating prodigy". Intelligence (University of California, Berkeley, USA) 14 (3): 259–274. doi:10.1016/0160-2896(90)90019-P. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b c d "Obituary: India's 'human computer' Shakuntala Devi". BBC News. April 22, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  6. Jump up ^ "Science: Numbers Game". Time. July 14, 1952. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  7. Jump up ^ IBTimes Staff Reporter (April 22, 2013). "Math Genius and Guinness Record Holder Shakuntala Devi Passes Away at Age 83". International Business Times. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  8. ^ Jump up to: a b c Aditi Mishra; Siddarth Kumar Jain (April 22, 2013). "She made learning maths as thrilling as magic". The Bangalore Mirror. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  9. ^ Jump up to: a b c d "India's math wizard, Shakuntala Devi". Yahoo! India News. April 22, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  10. Jump up ^
  11. Jump up ^ Smith, Steven Bradley (1983). The Great Mental Calculators: The Psychology, Methods, and Lives of Calculating Prodigies, Past and Present. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231056400.
  12. Jump up ^ Subir K Kole (2007-07-11). "Globalizing queer? AIDS, homophobia and the politics of sexual identity in India". Globalization and Health 3: 8. doi:10.1186/1744-8603-3-8. PMC 2018684. PMID 17623106: "The first academic book on Indian homosexuals appeared in 1977 (The World of Homosexuals) written by Shakuntala Devi, the mathematics wiz kid who was internationally known as the human computer. This book treated homosexuality in a positive light and reviewed the socio-cultural and legal situation of homosexuality in India and contrasted that with the gay liberation movement then taking place in the USA."
  13. ^ Jump up to: a b Shakuntala Devi (1977). The World of Homosexuals. Vikas Publishing House. ISBN 9780706904789
  14. Jump up ^ R.I.P. Shakuntala Devi, math-evangelist and ally of the queer community
  15. ^ Jump up to: a b Ruth Vanita; Saleem Kidwai, eds. (2008). Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History. Penguin UK. ISBN 9788184759693
  16. Jump up ^ Subhash Chandra (March 2008). "Review of "The Construction of Queer Culture in India: Pioneers and Landmarks"". Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific (16)
  17. Jump up ^ Jeffrey S. Siker (2006). Homosexuality and Religion. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 127. ISBN 9780313330889: "In her 1977 book, mathematician Shakuntala Devi interviewed..."

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