He is celebrated as the world’s fastest human calculator and has rooms full of trophies to prove it.
But the young Indian was not born obviously gifted.
When Neelakantha Bhanu was five years old, he fell from his cousin’s scooter as it was hit by a truck. His head hit the road and his skull was fractured.
He needed 85 stitches and several operations and spent nearly a year bedridden.
Doctors told Bhanu’s parents his brain function could be impaired for the rest of his life.
To aid his recovery, Bhanu began to learn how to solve puzzles and play chess to keep his mind active. He soon progressed to maths problems.
“I remember the pain vividly,” he said. “I had to learn arithmetic and solve puzzles to get better.”
His genius soon became apparent.
Since the age of 13, he has represented India internationally and broken world records for fastest human calculation, super subtraction, and power multiplication.
This year, Bhanu became the first Asian to win gold at the Mental Calculation World Championship, which took place in London at the Mind Sports Olympiad. He is the first non-European competitor to earn the title.
Bhanu, now at the ripe old age of 20, says he is ready to call it quits on competitive maths. But he doesn’t plan on being idle in retirement.
He is turning his talents to eradicating “maths phobia”.
Many children suffer from this, and incalculable numbers of adults too.
Bhanu thinks he is the person to help them conquer their fears.
“I don’t want to be the face of mathematics anymore,” he said. “I want to be the face of the fight against maths phobia. That’s all.”