If you were to be asked the cube root of 9183300484 or the product of 789 and 234, the chances are you’d need a calculator, or at least a pencil, a piece of paper and an undisturbed few minutes.
A 20-year-old from Hyderabad, however, who is studying Mathematics at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, and holds four world records (and 50 Limca records) needs only a split second.
Meet Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash – the “fastest human calculator” in the world – and the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Mental Calculation World Championship, an event held during Mind Sports Olympiad in London recently.
“Mental calculation may have been recently popularised by the Bollywood movie Shakuntala Devi, but I’ve been active in this for a long time. And, on Independence Day, I represented India at the Mind Sports Olympics,” Mr Prakash told NDTV, adding that these were every bit as demanding and competitive as the sporting kind.
The Mind Sports Olympics, for those who don’t know what that is, are an annual multi-disciplined world competition that prizes feats of mental skill and agility. The first Mind Sports Olympics was held in 1997.
“No Indian has ever won gold at this event. This is moment of pride for the entire nation and also a good reminder that there is a lot more to do to promote mathematics and mental calculation in the country. But yeah, that is the reason why people are calling me the fastest human calculator in the world,” he said.
The fear of mathematics – a fear several school students will readily admit to – and the general phobia around the subject is something Mr Prakash is eager to dispel.
“I am not a born genius. I don’t believe that anyone is a “born genius”. I believe that everybody is born with a numerical competency. And at the end of the day, the blame is never on the individual. The system, the policies and the curriculum… all these determine how you take your first step towards the subject,” he explained.
Mr Prakash said he had trained hard for 15 years, starting as a child.
“If Mathematics is like an ocean, when the first wave hits you get scared. But once you go in a little and if you’re taught properly, it can become peaceful,” he added.
Mr Prakash also outlined his plans for mathematics in India – to create “VISION Math” labs, reach out to children and help them discover their love for the subject.
“The contribution of mathematics is not just about numbers and solving problems faster than calculators. It is about celebrating how the human brain functions and what it is capable of,” he continued, pointing out that while Usain Bolt could run 100 metres in 9.8 seconds, a Tesla electric car could cover that distance in three seconds.
But Usain Bolt, Mr Prakash argued, inspired physical fitness, just as mental calculation skills could inspire people to learn about the ability of the human brain.
The young mathematics star’s achievements were recognised today by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, who said he had made India proud.
With input from PTI