Easy as PI (Based on true incidents)

Easy as PI (Based on true incidents)

by Ramesh Mahadevan

A few days ago I met Rajan Mahadevan. No, he is not related to me. In fact, there is no one even in my extended family who would do things he does. For about five years he was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for memory, spitting out the value of pi to about thirty thousand and odd decimal points. For the uninitiated, the value of pi is a standardized memory test that many psychologists use in evaluating long term memory. Fans of 'e' and other irrational numbers might want to lobby for their causes.

Rajan is an unassuming, rather thin, bespectacled guy who generally has a good time in whatever company he is in. He is the sort of guy who speaks his mind off, no matter what others think about of him. The sort of guy who would relapse into Kondkerian slips even in mixed company. (For those of you who don't know, the Kondkerian school of philosophy is founded by our Indian metaphysician Dada Kondke, through his hindi movies filled with double, triple entendres) In fact, he is so crude, that I could actually relate to him and become friends with him.

After a couple of years of doing engineering at MIT (a.k.a Manipal Institute of Technology) Rajan dumped it in favor of psychology. Now he is doing a Ph.D in cognitive psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

I couldn't control my curiosity. I asked him "Is it true that you are a wiz in remembering numbers ?"

"That is true" Rajan admitted. "For example, what is your A. T \& T Calling Card number. I will remember it for at least twenty years"

"Nice try" I said, watching him light his cigarette.

"I derive a lot of my strategy from Vedic mathematics" Rajan said "I can show you the book I use. The sanskrit poems are interesting. The same poem can be interpreted to be in praise of Shiva and also Krishna and it is also simultaneously a bunch of mathematical techniques. There is an approximation to pi to about thirty eight decimal places. There are solutions to quadratic equations. Now I hear, it is even being taught in high schools in India."

>From what I understood, these verses are statements of problems and solutions, without much actual derivations, in the sense of present day formal logic.

Then it was time for show and tell. He asked one of us to write fifty single digit numbers at random. It was then read aloud for him. And he repeated it pronto ! Not only that, a couple of hours later, he repeated the list of numbers one more time. Not contented, an hour later, he recalled the list again, reciting it backwards this time. It was utterly disgusting. He said he would remember it for even up to twenty years. (He always mentioned twenty years as some kind of an upper limit for the volatility of his memory)

"I guess I have become a sort of a celebrity. One guy (American) even called me and asked me how one would get a vision of Kali." Rajan said.

"Can you memorize a phone book ?" I asked him, my curiosity perked up.

"Sure I can, provided that it is the phone book for a village, with a name like Basavannahalli, with just two pages of three digit phone numbers. I am not good at remembering words - words confuse my system of memorizing. Numbers, I have no problems at all. I put away huge numbers in something similar to a computer file and I can recall them even after decades."

He continued.

"I was featured in Larry King live on TV, Readers Digest, in about four hundred newspaper stories, such as Washington Post, press from Italy, France, UK, Germany and so forth. People ask me how I am different from a Rainman. I don't figure out how many toothpicks fall off. I simply memorize numbers. It is only now psychologists are trying to study these savants, especially the so-called idiot savants. We have a long way to go in our understanding of human capabilities. I do my research on memory and cognition. There is always this endless debate on how much is 'natural' and how much can be learnt."

"Is it true that memory is the second thing to go when you get old, Rajan ?"

"Which is the first one to go ?" He asked me.

"I forget." I replied, with a silly smile on my face. He laughed perfunctorily at my weak joke and continued.

"They have my picture in Las Vegas. I can't go anywhere near there. Even if I win a few bucks in the slot machine, the mafia is going to catch me."

"Can you do my taxes for me ?"

"You must be kidding me - I can't even balance my own check book, but then that is because of monetary reasons. Actually, I am quite absent-minded about a lot of things."

"But seriously, how does one improve one's memory ?" I asked."Any food habits ?"

"There are several bio theories about nutrition and memory. Eat more bindi says the conventional desi wisdom. I think some research points to an increased brain power with increased consumption of carbohydrates. It may have something to do with glucose in carbohydrates. Eat rice and pasta !"

"Being a true blue southie, I consume more than my share of carbohydrates. I don't know what it does to my brain, but it certainly induces a blissful sleep later. I guess the only recourse for me to improve my memory is to buy a laptop computer with hazaar hard drive and extended RAM. What do you think ?"

"Everybody has talents" he continued. "Different people have different domains in which they are very, very smart. Most of us (!) wallow in mediocrity, refusing to believe we can do things and look for those special areas where we are gifted. It is not enough to recognize these areas, but one should actually develop skills. My talents are not just gifts. I had to practice. I honed it. It is like when you are starting to play the violin or learn to ski, the first few times, you are analytical and learn the technicalities. Then these things become like second nature to you that you can't even tell someone how you do these things. The US government, (National Institute of Health) commissioned a study on me at the cost of \$ 176 000 and concluded nothing about why my memory is good or how I am special."

"Finally, Rajan, can you suggest any easy Guinness Records that mere mortals like me can break ?"

Somebody butted in. "Sure, if you keep writing your trashy posts for another ten years, you would have broken the record for the most noise generated on the network."

Rajan went on.

"When I have nothing to do, I memorize a thousand or so digits of pi. I lost the world record a couple of years ago and I plan to break it over again. The present record is forty thousand odd digits (He told me the exact number, but being no math wiz, I am truncating it to the nearest round figure) I plan to beat it by memorizing up to ninety thousand digits, once I am done with my Ph. D qualifiers. The interesting thing is the present record is held by a seventy eight year old Japanese. It took me nearly three hours to recite the thirty thousand odd digits. It took the Japanese guy over eighteen hours to recite the digits. This Japanese gentleman had an interesting algorithm to memorize the digits. In Japan, each number is also associated with a word, like 'hen' etc. So instead of remembering the numbers he memorized the sequence in terms of words, then made a story out of it. Of course, it will be a ridiculous story and you know that the more ridiculous it is, the more easy it is to memorize. When he recalled, he converted his story into words, then to numbers. He will have a tough time extending it to beyond his present capabilities. I plan to recite the digits in less than nine hours."

I wished him luck. We have become friends since then and try to out-eat each other in all the dinners we get invited to.

But fellas, isn't it amazing ? A whole ridiculous story in just ten words, plus associated pronouns propositions and simple verbs ? By a man who is seventy eight ! At that age, my grandfather didn't even remember his own name. At any rate, let me try my hand at a 'story' with only ten words.

(Ten words used in the passage:
Rape, woman, might, right, all, self, demolish, pen, sword, dude)

Might Is Right

Dudes, might is right. Allmighty is allrighty. Self-mighteous is self-righteous. Dude rape woman. Might is right. Dude demolish. Might is right. Pen mightier than sword. Pen right ? If dude has sword. Then sword mightier. Because sword demolish pen. So sword rightier. So rape all, dude, with might and be right. All woman not might. So woman not right. But right pen might demolish sword and be might and right. Dude self demolish, not right. So, dudes, pen all, might is right, demolish !

Copyright(R) Mahadevan Ramesh