St Stephens’ Math graduate bags title of world’s fastest human calculator
Any mention of Mathematics is often preceded by jitters. Nervous students try every trick in the book to evade taking up the subject and it is often seen as a necessary evil to pass grades. But Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash, a 20-year old graduate of Mathematics (Hons) from St Stephens College, is out to change this perception.
Bhanu has become the fastest human calculator in the world after bagging the gold for India in the Mental Calculation World Championship at Mind Sports Olympiad. The event, held annually in London, saw virtual participation from 30 geniuses across 13 countries.
“It feels that the efforts have paid off, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. There is a lot to do now,” he says. His tryst with maths began when he was five years old and had an accident. “Doctors said that I will be cognitively impaired if I didn’t keep working on these skills. So my mom brought me puzzles and that’s how I knew my inclination was there. I realised that calculations are something that I loved doing,” he shares. Growing up, he would practice for about 4-6 hours every day, but toned it down later. “There are other skill sets that I need to hone. If I was just a mathematics calculator and didn’t know how business worked or how policy worked, I wouldn’t be able to contribute anything at all,” says Bhanu who has 50 Limca Records and four world records to his name.
Not one to flaunt his skills, he never told his teachers or peers at the college the things he had undertaken. “They knew that I did something along the lines of calculations but I would just smile when they would ask me,” he says.
Growing up a prodigy, was he ever asked to perform anything for relatives or neighbours? “It used to happen a lot when I was a kid, but after a time, even the people got tired. None of it is a surprise for them. In Delhi, I have posed as a magician and done shows at bars, without revealing that I have these records,” he says.
Stressing on the need to promote the subject at a National level, he feels that films have played an important role in getting people’s attention. He says, “I am proud to say that Bollywood has successfully made it popular. My favourite movie on Math is The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016). The traction that I am getting now has been because this was preceded by all these films. Had it been anything else, or had the event not been called the Olympiad, this would not have happened.”
“Just like walking is good for the heart, math is for the brain. If we can convey this to people, then the fear for arithmetic will go away. Once these waves of fear go away, then it is a calm ocean,” he adds.
When not doing calculations, Bhanu likes to read books, travel and play video games. “I am passionate about desserts and headed an ice-cream start-up in the past. I write codes and give business consultations. I like it when I am exhausted at the end of the day and sleep with a smile on my face because I have contributed something.
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