Born in Bengaluru, India, Shakuntala Devi did not have the opportunity to attend school as her father was a circus performer and didn’t have the funds to send her for a formal education.
At an early age Devi started demonstrating great ability at mental calculations and she began traveling with her father to show off these talents. She toured the universities of India at the age of six showing of her skills at extracting cube roots in her head and soon would provide the family’s only income. As a teen she traveled to England to put on shows, sending most of her earnings back to her family.
Devi demonstrated her skills at mental calculations around the world, including a visit to Southern Methodist University in 1977 where she gave the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in less than a minute. To check her answer a special program was written for the UNIVAC 1101 computer. In 1988 she was invited to the United States to have her abilities studied by a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. During the test she was asked to perform several tasks including calculating large numbers and the cube root of an eight digit number and the seventh root of a nine digit number. The scientist completing the study reported that Devi solved the problems correctly before he could copy them down into his notebook.
During a visit to the Imperial College of London, Devi was asked to multiply two 13-digit numbers that had been picked at random by the school’s computer department. Her correct answer–given in 28 seconds earned her a place in the 1982 Guinness Book of Records.
When asked how she was able to complete her mental calculations she would say that she was born with a gift and that it just came to her. She did go on to explain some of her methods in a book Figuring: The Joy of Numbers, published in 1977, which she followed with other works including puzzle books, a parenting book, and a math based murder mystery.
Suggested by: Deva Henry
Written by Angela Goad