Born on November 4, 1929 Shakuntala Devi was dubbed the ‘human computer’ for her insane quantitative aptitude. Today, the Google Doodle paid its homage to India’s most famous mathematician since Ramanujan. Born in in a Brahmin family, Shakuntala Devi moved to London in 1944 when she was 15 years old with her father, who worked in a circus company as a trapeze artiste and tightrope performer.
What is less commonly known about this maths genius is the fact that she is arguably one of India’s first queer activists. She claimed to have become interested in the subject after being married to a homosexual man and wrote the World of Homosexuals in 1977.
It’s interesting to note that despite the failed marriage, Devi didn’t have an adverse reaction to the LGBT community but instead felt the need to understand the intricacies of homosexuality. Sadly, the 70s were hardly the most liberal era in India and the book hardly garnered any coverage.
In the book, she has tracked down various gay people including a senior company executive, who narrates his self-discovery of homosexuality and the head-priest of the Srirangam Temple in Tiruchirapally district who gives a theological twist to homosexuality by claiming same-sex lovers must have been opposite sex lovers in their previous birth. She wrote in the book, ‘What we know is that many decent, intelligent, moral and apparently normal people find their own sex more exciting than the opposite sex. They are found in all walks of life and in all professions. If homosexuals want to live within the discipline of society, what does the society expect them to do? Live a life of total celibacy?’
Amazing stuff considering this was the 70s and homosexuality was still a crime under the Indian Penal Code. Not only was she an amazing mathematician, but also a compassionate human being. health.india.com salutes the mathematical genius.