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Math wizard Shakuntala Devi dead

Bangalore, April 21, 2013, DHNS: 1:30 IST
Shakuntala Devi

Shakuntala Devi, known as the “human computer” for her mathematical abilities that could beat computers, passed away in the city on Sunday morning. The 80-year-old genius was undergoing treatment for respiratory and cardiac problems for the past fortnight in a hospital at Basavanagudi in the city.

“She passed away at 8:15 am,” Shakuntala Devi Educational Foundation Public Trust Trustee D C Shivadev told Deccan Herald. She is survived by her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Shakuntala Devi was a practising astrologer.

A Guinness record holder, Devi is said to have, in 1977 at a university in the USA, solved the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds while a computer took 12 seconds longer than her to come up with the answer. At the tender age of six, she demonstrated her mathematical abilities at the University of Mysore.

Trials and tribulations

In yet another memorable performance, she multiplied two randomly chosen13-digit numbers within 28 seconds at Imperial College, London, in 1980.

Some of the books she had authored include “Puzzles to Puzzle You”, “Astrology for You” and “In the Wonderland of Numbers”.

While her mathematical genius was well known, few knew about the trials and tribulations she had undergone at a young age. A school dropout, she often worked on a hungry stomach to earn money to support her family. Her parents drove her to showcase her mental prowess at various events. She was once admitted to a school, but was sent home after three months, as the family could not pay the fees.

In an interview with Deccan Herald a few years ago, she had said: “Even though I shone in English and maths, they wouldn’t have me. And both students and teachers would taunt and humiliate me for coming to school in the same tattered dress everyday. But I had only one saree to wear and I would wash and dry it on a tree outside the home and sit shivering, wrapped in a torn towel, till it dried,” she recalls.

When Shakuntala took her younger sister, whom she loved deeply and who was suffering from bone disease to Vellore for treatment, the sisters were turned away since they could not pay the hospital fee of Rs 40.

Her sister died a slow, agonising death later. She later built a school in her sister’s name in Chamarajapet.

No bitterness

But there was no bitterness in her. Her very profession as an astrologer was geared to help people and Shakuntala Devi had said that since she had suffered greatly in life, she used her gift to guide people on how to find happiness and achieve success.

And true enough, the maths wizard recognised by Guinness Book of World Records had a several illustrious clients including former president and scientist APJ Abdul Kalam and Shahrukh Khan, to chief ministers, ambassadors, and world-famous artistes and personalities.

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