The Imperial Tailoring Co. finally brings the Indian ‘mathematical prodigy’ to Russia
MOSCOW, Russia — Shakuntala Devi, the famous Indian-born mathematical prodigy, more popularly known across the globe as a ‘human computer’ for her unrivaled mathematical ingenuity and unparalleled speed and mental acuity in calculations involving multiple-digit figures without any artificial skills-enhancing capabilities, was in Moscow in June to treat Russians to her much promoted scientific skills and other mathematical exploits with dates and days of past week and years bordering on the rims of mystery that have enchanted the whole world for decades.
Whist in the Russian capital on programs promoting the Indian Year in Russia, Devi met with different people from different spheres of life, including key members of the State Duma, the Russian lower chamber of parliament. “I’ve always nourished a great desire to visit Russia, which was the only great country in the world that I have not visited since being to China last year,” the world renowned mathematician said at the opening of her seminar, titled Mathematics Through Mind Dynamics, on June 10 at The Imperial Tailoring Co., whose top management — headed by president and CEO Sammy Kotwani — had invited her to the capital of a country, which the Indian-born mathematical prodigy said probably had as much influence on her as mathematics in her formative stages.
“This is because my acquaintance with the literary works of famous Russian writers, notably Maxim Gorky, Boris Pasternak, etc. in my early youth inspired me to become a writer later,” she added. “Indeed, despite the fact India at the time of my birth and youth being a British colony, I must say that I actually got acquainted much earlier with the works of these Russian writers than with those of the British,” she added. “It is, therefore, not accidental that Russia was the last country for me to visit because, as the proverb goes, people always reserve the ‘best thing’ for the last.”
The road to global recognition, fame and glory
However, it was not her prolific writing prowess that has produced lots of works across several fields of human endeavors that has brought her local and international fame, but her superlative ability to calculate large multiple-digit figures without using any technological devices right from the age of three. Indeed, this childhood’s extraordinary affection for numbers would later become her trademark as she developed and improved on skills for solving complicated mathematical calculations with lightening speed and scientific precision that eventually won her global recognition as a mathematical prodigy.
Labeled by Gandhi as the ‘Indian mathematical ambassador’ and then a ‘roving ambassador of India’ by contemporary Indian statesmen, and then later a ‘living wonder,’ human computer’ and ‘the woman that does ‘scientific magic with figures’ by people awed by her mental agility — titles that she repeatedly referred to with affection, respect and modesty during the course of discussions and interactions with the author of this article, Devi has more than lived up to these ‘diplomatic and scientific labels,’ having been almost virtually to all parts of the globe, spreading mathematics across continents in breath-taking workshops and super-master classes aimed at popularizing the subject and her yet-to-be-matched skills.
“These are gifts from God, which have helped me personally and also enabled me to help others and, thanks to these ‘scientific gifts,’ I have been able to meet lots of different people in several countries, including and royalties, top global politicians and other VIPs.” According to Devi, some of her celebrity acquaintances included the King of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk, King Hussein of Jordan, Hillary Clinton in her capacity of the U.S. first lady in the 1990s, Donald Trump, the U.S. business magnate, who is the chairman and CEO of Trump Organization, UK Former Prime Minister Leonard James Callaghan, ex-Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings and other various other personalities, winning high acclaims and respect from all of them.
The encounters and duels with ‘artificial brains’
Recounting her confrontations with modern computer’s calculating capabilities, she mentioned her encounters with the most sophisticated computers of their times at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia in the early 1970s, and later at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, United States in 1977, and finally, at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London in 1980, where the human brain unapologetically defeated the best computers with big time margins.
However, it was the London encounter exactly 29 years ago at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in June 1980 that she recounted with more emotions, noting that she initially was very afraid of the challenge itself and the enormity of her responsibility before her country as almost all high-ranking members of the Indian community in the United Kingdom at the time and all Indians everywhere as well as the whole computer world watched the event. “At the end, the computer was beaten hands down, as I gave the correct answer a record 30 seconds faster the computer, an unprecedented achievement greeted with standing ovations by the over 2,000-member audience comprising people of different backgrounds and nationalities that watched the competition between ‘human and artificial brains’ live. It was eventually crowned with an entry into the Guinness Book of Records for 1980s.”
Indeed, her mathematical exploits with gigantic multi-number digit figures border on the fringe of inexplicable ‘scientific mystery,’ especially coming from a person with no formal education — in the traditional usage of the term — as she gives the cube roots of seven-, eight-, nine- and higher digit numbers chosen at random by individuals unknown to her in an audience within a twinkle of an eye, whilst automatically giving the results of squaring and later cubing the resultant numbers as a means of authentication of the results. Indeed, all the press representatives, including the author of this article, and other people in the audience armed with the latest electronic mobile technologies and other advanced IT gadgets with superlative calculation capabilities could not compete with her speed in ‘spewing’ out the results of multiplying large multiple-digit figures by similar large multiple-digit figures. A mistake made — either intentionally or unintentionally — by one of the journalists by cubing an unknown multiple-digit number was spotted straight away by Devi, who instantly prompted the journalist to recheck her calculations with her computing gadgets. The journalist later conceded an error.
Other mathematical exploits
Displaying an unprecedented depth and capabilities of human memory, Devi also proves that, apart from being completely at home with figures measured in tens of millions and more, as she is not, in her words, interested in smaller-digit numbers, she has an equal affinity for remembering exact dates and naming the days of the weeks in years gone by. Thus, when given the year, the month and, then the date — strictly in that order — she instantly gives the name of the day of the week and vice-versa. Similarly, on knowing the name and date of a particular day of the week, say, Thursday, June 11, 2009, she can name all the dates and days of each week and month of 2009 that will be Thursdays. She demonstrates this phenomenon by asking people to be turning the pages a calendar for the audience to verify the dates and days as she mentions them with the ‘speed of light.’
Apart from organizations of seminars, workshops and other training seminars across the world, the mathematical prodigy intends to leave her legacy in form of a public trust foundation, The Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation, which is currently under development right in the Indian science and technology ‘silicon valley’ of Bangalore. “The foundation accepts local and international donations and readily provides receipts and updates on how such donations are being used to meet the declared objectives,” she added.
Now, with an-round interest in all spheres of human endeavors, excerpt for politics, which she says is driven more by selfish ambitions of politicians rather than the actual necessity to really cater for the needs of the people, Devi says she believes more in humanitarian values, which she tries to propagate through mathematics and workshops on the subject across the globe. “This is because mathematics brings all people together, irrespective of skin colors, sexes, races, religious backgrounds, political views, etc.”