Both are wizards of sorts. We are talking of two women… one, who could work magic with figures and the other, whose jugglery with words will leave listeners stunned.
The first one of course is India’s wonder woman, the late Shakuntala Devi, whose mastery over mathematics was unparalleled. There's a popular video of hers wherein she is all set to find the product of two eight digit figures. She looks at the numbers and asks the audience: Would you need the answer from the left or from the right? As the stunned audience watched in disbelief, the lady wrote down her answers from the left to the right. If the world-famous Shakunthala Devi could wind figures around her fingers, here’s a young lady, Lakshmi S Prakash, who can wind words around her tongue, for so amazing is her linguistic prowess.
Reverse spelling. That’s her forte, unbelievable, given the fact that as a child she was quite pathetic at getting her spellings in English right. Not to be beaten she developed a style of her own to overcome her failure. Today, Lakshmi can not only spell any word simultaneously in English, Hindi and Malayalam with ease but also shoot them in reverse order. In fact, when she goes full throttle in reverse order, it leaves one wondering whether she’s talking in tongues.
Her wonder skills don’t end here. She’s a past master at mirror writing and upside down writing. Her instant talent will rattle off the number of letters a certain word is made of, however complicated. For example, if one were to give her any word from supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to Shashi Tharoor’s jaw-aching hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, Lakshmi would in a jiffy tell us the exact number of letters each word is graced with. Her jugglery with letters and words would make for an interesting case study. It’s not for nothing that her colleagues in Bangalore call her “Ulta Lakshmi”. But all of this did not come without effort, says the reverse wordsmith as she chats with Onmanorama.
English, her stumbling block
A native of Vadakara in Kozhikode, Lakshmi’s world revolved round her parents. But tragedy struck their lives when Lakshmi lost her father at the tender age of five. The change in destiny took her and her mother to her maternal home. This saw a change in her educational status as well. The child who had hitherto been sent to DPEP schools was suddenly moved to the CBSE curriculum. The kid who was totally unfamiliar with English found the language forbidding. Her English medium status was also daunting. Things got worse as the school rule stipulated that students converse only in English. “Not a word could I follow”, says Lakshmi. As for dictation, the less said the better, she adds. That settled matters for her. She refused to be cowed down by English words and spellings.
A self-found technique
At last she evolved a technique to remember spellings. She would go the right way, that is, from left to right and then from right to left. Much to her surprise, Lakshmi realized that the spellings thus learned stayed in her memory. This became a natural habit, but no one knew what she was up to, except perhaps her mother who used to listen to her daughter’s exercises. But she never realized the truth behind the child’s skill or effort. Thus she went on till class five, persevering, refusing to let go. The reverse spelling spree became an obsession. The girl who flunked her English slowly started scoring big.
The school held a personality development course while Lakshmi was in class six. “Jojo Sir, programme personnel with Doordarshan was the resource person”, says Lakshmi. During the course of the lessons he asked whether anyone could recite the English alphabet in correct reverse order. “I raised my hand. I was asked to come up on stage and show my skill, which I did with ease. I was applauded lustily”, recalls Lakshmi. Jojo Sir did not stop with that. Came the next question: “Just like this, can you spell a few English words in reverse order?” She said she would try. And win, she did. The school came to know of her amazing skill at that venue. She now understood that what had begun as a simple linguistic exercise was indeed a skill not many were gifted with. Her friends were stunned and a star was born! What followed were TV shows where Lakshmi was invited to exhibit her rare talent.
A self-made wonder!
“I was a wonder to all. My brain became the focus of general discussion. There’s something special about it, I caught people saying”, says Lakshmi in total bemusement. But that comment made her pause and ponder over other possibilities. She started experimenting with words and letters. How many letters did a particular word have? How many vowels, how many consonants? It soon hit her that all these could be mastered with a little attention and concentration.
Thus came the ability to write with both hands… simultaneously, master mirror writing, speak Malayalam in reverse order, upside down.
The revelation that she could do almost anything with languages was shocking. That’s how she became master of Malayalam, English and Hindi. However, Lakshmi has no clear answer as to how she achieved such skills. It’s something that came naturally to her, adds the whizkid.
From Chemistry to IT
Lakshmi wanted to be a doctor. With good scores in class ten and twelve, she joined a local college for a degree in BSc Chemistry as her family was loathe to sending her away from her home town. But fate favoured her when IT giant Wipro came to her college for campus placement while Lakshmi was in her final year. A few students from Chemistry stream were selected and trained. Wipro offered students the unique opportunity of training for MTech and on passing out successfully, the company would absorb them. Lakshmi was the only student from her college to qualify for the rare opportunity. Her teachers and friends won over her family and that’s how the chemistry graduate landed a software job.
She recently left Wipro for Infosys. Lakshmi lives in Bengaluru with her husband and kids.
A fulfilling life
Lakshmi happens to be the only IT personnel in her family. All the others are teachers by profession. “They invite me over to their respective schools and colleges to address the students and tell them how all this can be achieved, more so because all this skill was wrought out of my flopping show in English”. She shares her rare tips and tricks with them. Lakshmi’s YouTube channel Crazy Minds is also a source of inspiration. She comes live quite often and accepts the challenges that pop up. At times she puts in a few contests.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve been of help to someone”, says the wonder woman as she signs off.