Shakuntala Devi, dubbed the ‘Human Computer’ for her mathematical prowess, has returned to the public memory due to the release of the biopic under her name, with actress Vidya Balan portraying the Guinness World Record-holder.
Having spent a large amount of her life travelling and spreading the joy of mathematics to many, some of the Chennai residents have some fond memories with the woman to recall.
“She had come to Dubai with the Indian Embassy and had expressed her preference for the South Indian meal. The Consulate-General’s daughter and I studied in the same class, so they requested if we could host her, which we did. My mother prepared sambhar, rasam and adai for her, and she stayed until 5 pm that day,” said Gopalakrishnan.
Many have also witnessed her mathematical presentations in their schools.
When Javanthi Singaram was in Class 9, Devi had visited her school, Good Shepherd Convent, to address the students. “We sat at the Fathima Hall on the floor. There was a blackboard with a series of numbers on it. Shakuntala just saw the numbers and gave her answer in a second. Our mathematics teacher separately solved the answer and said that she was correct,” said Singaram.
Devi also hosted several public shows with a set script where she solved several mathematical problems. For 68-year-old Sushi Natraj, who saw Devi when she was 13 in Bombay, it was an exhilarating experience. “My father and I sat in the front row on sofas. When I saw the biopic yesterday, I remembered a sequence she had performed on the stage that day, right down to the exact numbers. I don’t know why it is stuck in my mind. I loved mathematics as a child, so I remember going home and trying to deduce the sequence,” she said.
When Colonel Vembu Shankar met Devi at the World Book Fair in 2000, he was interested in speaking to the woman and getting her autograph. “I had read in books and newspaper articles about her computing abilities. She had a charming nature and pleasing personality. The biopic gives us an insight into her personal struggles, especially her relationship with her husband,” he said.