CHENNAI: Anupama Banerj i ’s daily routine has been unusually packed with interviews. But she has no complaints. This is her chance to reminisce the life and times of her mother Shakuntala Devi — the world-renowned mathematician. While the world knew her as the Human Computer, a genius who solved complex equations even before one could bat an eyelid, to her daughter Anupama, “mummy” was an affectionate and caring woman.
“There was never a dull moment with her. She was very possessive. While growing up, she was not just my mom but also my dad. We were the only family for each other,” says Anupama, who is currently based in London with her husband Ajay Abhaya Kumar and their two daughters. Ajay quickly pitches in to agree with Anupama saying that his mother-in-law never had a moderate emotion. Recalling how difficult it was to win Devi’s heart, he says, “Anu (Anupama) was her only child. Since she was playing the part of both parents, the possessiveness was always double and now multiply that emotion by 10 times and you will just reach the surface of Devi’s emotion.” Anupama spent 17 years in Bengaluru, with her mother, where she met Ajay. “I always pay a yearly visit to the city,” adds Anupama.
Devi, recalls Ajay, was extremely fond of South Indian snacks, especially kodubale and nippattu. It was impossible to keep her away from them, even if she was extremely sick, it seems. “She was diabetic and extremely sick. I had to clear all the snacks from the kitchen, but being the smarter, mum would pack them in a plastic cover and keep it in the trash bin. Because, that was the last place I would go and check. One day, she got busted when I was cleaning the trash bin, when she kept insisting that I don’t clean it,” laughs Anupama, adding that her mother would tease her saying, “Mamu (Banerji’s nickname) has become mummy now.” Devi, she says, had a distinct sense of humour.
“When Ajay and I visited her on our 15th anniversary, she looked pensive and in her classic humour said, ‘Congratulations, I couldn’t have done it’,” remembers Banerji, who reveals that her mother wasn’t keen on being funny on most occasions. Having watched Devi’s passion and love for Maths from such close quarters, we’d assume Anupama too would have nurtured a similar love. “I seriously doubt if anyone can be as much in love with Maths as my mum was. It was never a question on my mind to level up to her. I guess we were too busy living our lives, I am her greatest fan. Like my mother says, at the end of the day it will always be Mamu and mummy,” she concludes, while giving us a sneak peek into their lives.