We are ‘hopelessly poor’

Shakuntala Devi, interview. She says European and American are “hopelessly poor” in Mathematics (compared to Chinese and Indian people).


The Guinness Book of Records (1982) reports:

“Mrs. Shakuntala Devi of India demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers of 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779 picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London on 18 June 1980, in 28 s. Her correct answer was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.”

An article in the New York Times (November 10, 1976, cited in Smith, 1983, p. 306) reported that Shakuntala Devi added the following four numbers and multiplied the result by 9,878 to get the (correct) answer 5,559,369,456,432:


She was reported to have done this calculation in “20 seconds or less.”

Her fame grew manifold when she beat one of the world’s fastest computers by 10 seconds, while multiplying two 13-digit numbers in 28 seconds.

Shakuntala Devi never attended school in her younger days, but her father noticed and nourished her abilities in Mathematics since the age of three. He taught her Arithmetics. Numbers were her favorite toys and she would play and calculate with them every day, encouraged by her father, who soon made her a part of his professional act as a stage magician, with Devi performing card tricks and calculations. She soon became the whole show and her father then simply acted as her manager.

The question everyone asks is: how does she do it?

Devi’s own answers to this question, given at different times:
– “an inbom gift”;
– “I think anyone could do it if they loved numbers the way I do”;
– “Perhaps anyone could do it if they had played with numbers for hours every day since early childhood”.
So, remember, a remarkable performer (or genius, if you prefer) usually combines these three things: natural ability, desire guidance and early practice.

Now, do you understand why our standard school education is “hopelessly poor” (not only in Mathematics)? It wastes natural abilities, despises individual desire and privileges too much theory over practice.


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