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On the Mental Calculation World Championship contest held as a part of the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO) held in London on August 15th, Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash came first. This is significant on multiple levels, let's go through them first.
First of all, Bhanu, who's aged 20, is the first Asian to win the title, actually, he's the first non-European to win the title in the event's 23-year history. He outperformed other contestants so well that judges had him do extra calculations to satiate their perplexion.
But he told CNN that he's no prodigy, and does not want to be called one either. "... because I find the word 'prodigy' a little troubling as it just doesn't capture the efforts and experience, it's just a state that's obtained out of nowhere." And he has a good reason for that.
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A test of perseverance
In 2005, when Bhanu was 5, he was hit by a truck while riding his cousin's scooter. He experienced extensive head trauma. His skull was fractured and it took multiple surgeries and 85 stitches to stabilize him.
The doctors put him in a drug-induced coma for a week while telling the parents that there was a possibility that Bhanu's cognitive performance may be forever affected after a head trauma this serious.
He was bed-bound for the following year. He says that the accident changed the way he defined "fun". He learned to play chess and solve puzzles to keep his mind busy and active, eventually settling on maths.
His family removed all the mirrors in the house for a full year so he didn't see his scar on the forehead. Bhanu was determined to not be defined by this injury and the scar though. In 2007, at the age of 10, Bhanu earned third place in a state-wide arithmetic contest in the sub-jr. category. This bought his father to tears but Bhanu says "It wasn't the medal, it was what led me there that moved my father."
His love for maths only grew by the day at that point onwards. He broke four world records while representing India internationally after the age of 13 in the fields of fastest human calculation, power multiplication, super subtraction, and mental math. Broke 50 Limca records (think Guinness book but for India).
He says "When I am attempting a world record it's almost like the world around me slows down," he likens the feeling to what the DC superhero 'The Flash' feels on hyperspeed.
He says that "... when he runs, everything else around is blurred. It definitely feels nice but also feels extremely liberating to actually do these complex calculations at this pace."
Bhanu's latest success drew the attention of India's President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu who both congratulated the not-genius for his success.