Neelakantha Bhanu: A Fighting Face Of ‘Math Phobia’

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Neelakantha Bhanu

In a country like India where a majority of students today either fear or hate Mathematics, Mr. Neelakantha Bhanu, a 20-year-old prodigy has bagged the achievement of becoming the fastest human calculator of the world.

With 4 world records and 50 Limca records already under his name, Neelakantha Bhanu has gone further ahead and also brought home another gold medal for India in the Mental Calculation World Championship at Mind Sports Olympiad. It is an annual event which is held in London every year. This year it was held virtually and saw the participation of 30 champions from 13 countries. 

Our champion beat all and emerged as the fastest calculator in the world. Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash is a student of Delhi University’s St Stephens College. 

When asked about how he felt having such a great achievement under his name, the champion said, “holding the records that were once held by the legends like Shakuntala Devi, Scott Flansburg, and Arthur T. Benjamin, is a surreal and extremely nice feeling.” He further stated that this tag of being the world’s fastest human calculator comes with immense responsibility. 

Neelakantha Bhanu

Neelakantha’s love for numbers began at the age of five when he met with an accident. He was bedridden for almost a year which gave him ample time to engage himself with numbers and most importantly puzzles. As a result of this accident, solving numerical puzzles became a fun activity for him. He says, just like one gets an adrenaline rush while mountaineering or skiing, calculating and solving mathematical problems with speed gives him an adrenaline rush. 

Mathematics, he believes is a language, rather than just being a subject. He compares it to the process of learning any language and says that it is quite similar. Pointing out the way in which Math is taught to students across the world, he explains that when learning a language, we first learn how to speak and then go on to study its grammar, and the same should be done with Math too. Instead he says, teachers have always been first explaining the methods and formulas without letting the students explore the world of numbers. 

Suggesting a friendly solution to this, Neelakatha says, “Math can be fun only when you understand the world around you with it.” To help individuals overcome the fear of Mathematics and cultivate interest and love for it, this 20-year-old mathematician has established a startup named Exploring Infinities. The startup aims to make Math a fun learning sport and is working towards it by developing a set of gamified applications that will enable experiential learning for children. 

When asked about the achievements he is proud of, Bhanu says he feels great to have broken the world records of his own role models. However he chooses to pick the most recent achievement of becoming the first non-European to win the gold medal at the Mental Calculation World Championship of Mind Sports Olympiad, as his proudest achievements till date. 

Neelakantha has credited his achievements to all those critics who discouraged him, as he says that these were the people who challenged him and gave him more reasons to strive for what seemed impossible to accomplish. He is also greatly thankful to his parents, family and friends who believed in his capabilities and encouraged him to give his best every single day.  

Highlighting another recent achievement, the champion goes on to say that he along with his startup successfully impacted 6 lakh students during the pandemic lockdown by conducting live classes via government as their math education partner. 

Recalling an anecdote, Neelakantha says, “I had been to a government school in 2017 to conduct a math workshop when a kid came to me and told me he hates math, but after the workshop, he again came to me and said that he now understands math.” To make a student like the subject also is an achievement that Bhanu is proud of. Since then he and his startup, Exploring Infinities, have transformed around 10,000 math-hating students to math-loving students.

Neelakantha Bhanu

Being the fastest human calculator, this prodigy holds one strong vision in life to completely eradicate the fear of Math from the world, make it fun, and encourage students to choose Mathematics instead of dropping it. 

Apart from this, Bhanu has called out for a global mission named ‘Vision Math’ that aims to change the way math is defined globally. This mission he says, is inspired by Greta Thunberg’s movement for Climate Change. Throwing some more light on ‘Vision Math’, Bhanu says, the phobia for math has been around for quite a long time now, and that needs to change. He thus wants to hold conversations with educationists, educational institutions, and more importantly students and redefine the objectives of Mathematics. 

Although a prodigy, Neelakantha Bhanu is just like any other youth who loves to watch cricket, travel, eat and try out different dishes, watch movies and web-series and also follow politics. This said, he is also a vision-driven youth who is striving to give whatever he has achieved, back to the society. 

Just like Bhanu has travelled a long way in achieving what he loved, he advices the other young and driven individuals to follow their passions, no matter how unrealistic they might seem to the critics. He says, if you strongly believe in your passion and are determined to achieve your dreams, you must invest efforts, because ultimately they will pay off. 

On a parting note, Bhanu also has a message for all those who hate math. He says, “Math is everywhere around us, it is something that everyone is intuitionally good at, so if someone says that ‘I am not good at Math’, it is because he/she wasn’t introduced to math in the right way. But there is always a chance to change that.” He further states, “Reform in the arena of Mathematics is due, and one must join the #visionmath movement, openly talk about math phobia and try to overcome it”. 

With a vision of driving away math phobia from the world, this human calculator wishes to become the “face of math phobia and not the face of mathematicians.”

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