Did You Know “Human Computer” Shakuntala Devi Also Authored a Book on Homosexuality?


Did You Know “Human Computer” Shakuntala Devi Also Authored a Book on Homosexuality?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

With theatres and multiplexes closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, TV and streaming have become the go-to options for entertainment for many. The good news for these people then, is that many eagerly anticipated Bollywood films starring huge stars have decided to pursue an online release in order to reach an audience that is staying at home. The latest film to arrive on a streaming platform will be Sony’s Shakuntala Devi, starring Vidya Balan. The trailer for Shakuntala Devi hit the internet today, once again drumming up interest in the life of the remarkable woman who lends the film her name.

Famously known as “The Human Computer”, Shakuntala Devi was a mathematical prodigy capable of impressive feats of mental calculation. Her skill with numbers garnered worldwide acclaim, leading to tours across the United States, appearances on BBC in the United Kingdom, and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. However, there is much more to her legacy than just her standing as one of the greatest mental calculators of all time.

Shakuntala Devi was born in 1929 in Bangalore, Karnataka. By the ’50s, she had already begun touring across the world displaying her arithmetic ability. But she also had an interest in writing, and in 1977, she authored a book called The World of Homosexuals. It was the first such study of homesexuality in India. This might be her most significant work, but Shakuntala Devi also wrote a number of other books, including novels and books on maths. She also harboured an interest in astrology, penning a book called Astrology for You.

Outside of her achievements in mental calculation and writing, she also spent a week as a sanyasini. A feature on her life states that after her college years, Shakuntala Devi toyed with the idea of renouncing the world and joined the Vyasaraya Mutt, but left after only one week. Later in her life, Shakuntala Devi also dabbled in politics, standing for the 1980 Lok Sabha elections in two constituencies, running against Indira Gandhi in one. Her life was truly eventful and full of surprises beyond her fame as The Human Computer.

The Shakuntala Devi biopic was initially scheduled to release in theatres in May. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus across the country meant that a theatrical release was no longer feasible. It will be streaming on Amazon Prime from July 31.