India is a flight ticket away from losing this ‘mathemagician’ to the Middle East

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67 multiplied by 67… Even for a veteran bank accountant, the answer to this would require a calculator or at the very least pen and paper. 67 x 67 is 4489 and 4489 x 67 is 300763, the calculator can tell us in seconds. But what if someone had to do it mentally? It would take a minute or two for a layman.

Now, hear this. In August 2015, Alappuzha-native Vivek Raj entered the Limca Book of Records by multiplying the number 67 to itself over and over until it reached 11 digits in 15 seconds. Next, he added the number 23 to itself over and over until it reached seven digits in 10 seconds to claim a second record. Both the numbers were selected at random by the examiners and given to Vivek on the spot. But any number from 10 to 99 would have made no difference to the man who tamed the beast of arithmetic long ago.  

Some might find it difficult to imagine a person doing such complex mathematics in the mind. But there is more. “By the time he was in Class VII, I could tell the multiplication table of at least 1000 numbers by heart. Within two years, it reached 10,000 numbers. Today I can tell you the multiplication table of at least one lakh numbers. I can tell the cube root and multiplication of any two-digit number in a couple of seconds,” the 31-year-old adds.

Vivek considers iconic mathematician Scott Flansburg his role model. They are kindred souls in a way as both of them have specialised in the same branch of mathematics – progression. It involves continuous addition and multiplication of numbers. Vivek has mastered the skill so well that he can go on till the result is a 32-digit number.

 In April 2016, Alappuzha-native Vivek Raj entered the Limca Book of World Records by multiplying the digit 67 five times in 15 seconds to reach a 11-digit number. (Photo | Nandalal)

Though he is gifted, qualified and humble, all is not well with Vivek. Engulfed by the thirst for his passion, he never doubted his decision to follow it despite being a qualified engineer. Vivek made it his life mission to cull all sorts of prejudice and phobia about mathematics — especially in young minds. He decided to become a “mathemagician” — a wizard destined to amaze and attract minds to his favourite subject using his gift. Vivek would challenge a calculator on the screen behind him on a stage as he went on solving question after question in front of the awestruck audience.

Applause never allured him so much that he forgot his bigger mission. Vivek also became a Vedic math tutor to transfer his skill set to more and more people. While people of all age groups are welcome to join, he enjoys teaching children the most.

“Vedic maths is to Indians what the abacus is to China. It is derived from the Atharva Veda and consists of 16 Sanskrit sutras and 13 sub-sutras. Mastering them all will make you capable of doing all techniques of Vedic maths,” says Vivek.

Vedic maths enables people to answer mathematical queries no matter how big the numbers involved are. Vivek teaches his pupils to calculate big numbers sans pen and paper.

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But, being an independent math tutor was not easy. What started as a 30-day programme had to be cut down to a 15-day programme with an hour each day as dropouts increased. New admissions were uneven, making it impossible to depend upon this alone to make ends meet. “Even kids with a taste in maths are likely to discontinue a course like this due to their academic demands,” Vivek said.

The arrival of the pandemic didn’t help as there were no more stage shows and classes had to be taken online.

Vivek has spent too many precious years working on his passion to walk back now. However, with each passing day, the bitter realities of life seem to be getting closer. How long can someone depend on an unreliable tuition programme to make ends meet?

“I am qualified. I spent the best years of my life mastering and propagating mathematics. But that came at a cost. I have no professional experience to show and will have to start from a fresher’s scale even if someone wants to hire me,” the son of two retired teachers said.

Vivek Raj considers iconic mathematician Scott Flansburg his role model.

Having experienced the predicament of the unorganised sector, Vivek tried to get the attention of the government. He believes the way he has worked to master the skill he possesses, it is not too much to ask for the support of the authorities. However, he didn’t want it for free. Having learnt that the Telangana state government had implemented a project on mind maths called “Project Infinity”, he submitted a proposal of the same kind to the Kerala government last year. However, Vivek’s “Project Mathletics” has not received a positive response so far.

While some individuals like Alappuzha MP AM Arif have been constantly in touch with Vivek and aiding his efforts, it has not provided the desired results yet.

“If supported by the government, math phobia among our children can be addressed effectively with the tricks and techniques I have. But I can’t wait forever. While I love the world of mathematics and teaching, I have obligations and responsibilities that won’t wait. So I might have to look for alternatives now,” he said.

By alternatives, Vivek means leaving behind the world of arithmetic so that he can finally settle down and take care of his ageing parents.

“In 2017, History TV aired my programme in five languages and I got amazing opportunities from many parts of the world including Europe. Abu Dhabi’s leading abacus firm had offered me the position of their chief mentor. But I declined them all back then because I was hopeful of finding something fulfilling here in my homeland. The truth is, I regret that decision now,” he added.

Vivek’s plan is to fly to the Middle East on a visiting visa where he has a few interviews lined up. Life is so hard on the math wizard that he is forced to travel abroad to try his luck. Vivek’s departure has been slowed down by the certificate attestation by Norca. If not for the pandemic, he would have left India long back.

Vivek’s interest in numbers started when he was 13 years old. (Photo|Nandalal)

“There is no one else who can do a 32-digit calculation as I do. But sadly hard work alone won’t do the trick for you. I have learnt it the hard way,” he said.

December 22 is National Math Day. Vivek spent the one that just passed feeling downcast. He is uncertain where he will be when the next Math Day arrives. If he is not here in his motherland, doing what he loves the most, it will be a shame.