Human Computer Shakuntala Devi

Female mathematicians of India: When Vidya Balan, acted as Shakuntala Devi, India’s first famous female mathematician and played with numbers, she redefined the idea that women can rule the domain of mathematics. While I am not undermining the abilities of men like Aryabhatta and Ramanujan, but I am questioning the stereotype that surrounds them. In our country, it is assumed that maths is not a subject for women.

The numbers, problem-solving ability and figures are a language that only men can understand. But proving these stereotypes wrong, many women of past and present have achieved excellence in mathematics. They have written papers, discovered formulas and researched various fields of mathematics. Even though female mathematicians began gaining ground in the 20th century, the list is being crowded by many more. So in this article, we list some exceptional mathematicians of India and appreciate their work.

Shakuntala Devi

Shakuntala Devi on shethepeople

Born in 1929, Shakuntala Devi was the first female Mathematician from India. She was fondly known as the “human computer” for her ability to perform lengthy calculations in her mind, faster than a computer. She once extracted the 23rd root of 201 digit number in just 50 seconds! 1980, she multiplied 13 digit numbers in just 28 seconds. For this feat, her name was etched in the 1982 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. She was recognised for “Fasted Human Computation”. Devi wrote several books on maths and her techniques of problem-solving.

Some books by her were “Puzzles to Puzzle You,” “Super Memory: It Can Be Yours” and “Mathability: Awaken the Math Genius in Your Child.” Apart from mathematics, she also tried her hands in astrology, writing crime fiction, politics and supported the LGBTQ. However, at the age of 83, in the year 2013, Devi passed away due to prolonged illness. But her legacy remains alive even today.

2. Raman Parimala

Born in 1948, Raman Parimala lived in a progressive household. She had a natural interest and excellence in maths since her school days. That was when she decided she wanted to do something in the field of mathematics. Even though women at that time were not allowed to take up careers apart from teaching or medicine, her father supported her immensely. Today she is one of the most well-known mathematicians of today. She has expertise in the field of algebra that has been refined by her contributions and research. She used number theory, algebraic geometry and topology to make outstanding contributions to the field of algebra. One of her most notable works is publishing the first example of nontrivial quadratic space over an affine plane. For her work in algebra, she has received much recognition.

She is the Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy (New Delhi), Indian Academy of Science (Bangalore), and the National Academy of Sciences (Allahabad). Parimala was felicitated with the highest science award in India, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in 1987. In 2020, The Ministry of Women and Child Development chose Parimala’s name among 11 women in science to be honoured with a Chair in their name. Parimala says, “Maths has a beauty of poetry, its abstractions are combined with perfect rigour.” She enjoys teaching too and encourages her students, especially women, to pursue a career in maths.

3. Dr Mangla Narlikar

“Maths is male-dominated. Girls are bad at maths or calculation” Dr Narlikar often heard this during her college days. But she refused to believe in any of them because she topped in every exam (of BA and MA in Maths) and was a maths wizard ready to count stars. However, after her masters, she got married to a scientist and moved to Cambridge. Although her in-laws and husband were supportive of her career, Dr Narlikar devoted herself to housework and fending for three kids. Meanwhile, she also pursued her PhD in mathematics. And some years later, she began teaching maths at various colleges. She worked as a lecturer at the University of Bombay and Pune.

Meanwhile, she also wrote papers on mathematics like Theory of Sieved Integers, Acta Arithmetica 38, 157 in 19, Mean Square Value theorem of Hurwitz Zeta Function, Hybrid Mean Value Theorem of L-Functions, Hardy Ramanujan Journal 9, 11-16, 1988 and more. She specialises in pure mathematics. Her papers were focused on making complex problems of maths simple to understand. This talent brought her to an NGO where she taught maths to girls living in a slum. She also wrote a few books on maths and was later appointed as the Chairman of Balbharti. She says, “If you want to learn universal ethics and norms, Math is a brilliant teacher.”

3. Sujatha Ramdorai

Sujatha Ramdorai first and the only Indian to win ICTP Ramanujan Prize in 2006 and also a winner of the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award in 2004. She is currently a professor at Maths at the School of Mathematics at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Ramdorai is also a member of the Scientific Committee of several international research like the Indo-French Centre for Promotion of Advanced Research, Banff International Research Station, International Centre for Pure and Applied Mathematics. She is also a member of the National Knowledge Commission and more.

Ramdorai has worked in the field of the algebraic theory of quadratic forms, arithmetic geometry of elliptic curves, the study of motives and noncommutative Iwasawa theory. In an interview, she said, For women, a scientific career perhaps offers more flexibility in combining a career with family life. Scientific policies could be shaped towards making them sensitive to the problems of women. I truly feel that there is a whole new world in science waiting to be discovered and claimed by women For her the magic in maths is that one can achieve excellence by just understanding it.

4. Dr Neena Gupta

Dr Neena Gupta is an Associate Professor at the Theoretical Statistics and Mathematics Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata. She is the youngest mathematician to receive the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar award in 2019. She received recognition for her work in affine algebraic geometry and for suggesting a solution for the Zariski Cancellation Problem which mathematicians from 20th and 21st centuries have been trying to solve. Gupta published her first research paper on the maths puzzle Zariski Cancellation in the year 2014. And soon after she received Indian National Science Academy–Young Scientist Award

Gupta’s field of research is mainly Commutative Algebra and Affine Algebraic Geometry. “Maths is for somebody who can solve the problems on their own. The pleasure which I get in solving problems in mathematics is much more than any award,” Dr Gupta says.