Twenty-year-old Neelakantha Bhanu is known in India and all over the world as the “world’s fastest human calculator,” but it was not always this way.
When Bhanu was five years old, he fell from his cousin’s scooter when it was hit by a truck and fractured his skull when his head hit the road.
He needed 85 stitches and several operations, and he spent nearly a year bedridden and recovering from his injuries.
The doctors told Bhanu’s parents his brain function could be impaired for the rest of his life due to the head trauma.
“That accident changed the way I used to define fun, and it is the reason why I am here today,” he said.
During his recovery, Bhanu learned how to solve puzzles and play games such as chess to keep his mind active. He eventually progressed to math problems.
“I remember the pain vividly … this is the most traumatic experience I have had in my life,” he recalled. “I couldn’t even go to school for a year. All I had to rely on to get better were numbers and puzzles.”
The injury left him with an “ugly” scar, but Bhanu was determined not to let physical appearances get him down.
From the age of 13, he has represented India internationally and broke four world records for fastest human calculation, super subtraction, power multiplication, and mental math: powers of two and three.
On August 15, Bhanu became the first Asian to win gold at the Mental Calculation World Championship that took place in London at the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO). He is also the first non-European competitor to earn the title.
Bhanu has certainly achieved a lot in mental math, but he has turned his efforts into philanthropic efforts, such as eradicating “math phobia.”
In 2018, Bhanu founded Exploring Infinities, a nonprofit aiming to make math cool by tracking cognitive ability development using arithmetic games.
As for his future in mental math competitions, Bhanu says he is ready to hang up his hat.
“I don’t want to be the face of mathematics — there are enough of those, and they are exceptional. I want to be the face against math phobia. Very simple,” he said.