D R Kaprekar was born in Dahanu, a town on the west coast of India about 100 km north of Mumbai. He was brought up by his father after his mother died when he was eight years old. His father was a clerk who was fascinated by astrology. Although astrology requires no deep mathematics, it does require a considerable ability to calculate with numbers, and Kaprekar's father certainly gave his son a love of calculating.
Kaprekar attended secondary school in Thane (sometime written Thana), which is northeast of Mumbai but so close that it is essentially a suburb. There, as he had from the time he was young, he spent many happy hours solving mathematical puzzles. He began his tertiary studies at Fergusson College in Pune in 1923. There he excelled, winning the Wrangler R P Paranjpe Mathematical Prize in 1927. This prize was awarded for the best original mathematics produced by a student and it is certainly fitting that Kaprekar won this prize as he always showed great originality in the number theoretic questions he thought up. He graduated with a B.Sc. from the College in 1929 and in the same year he was appointed as a school teacher of mathematics in Devlali, a town very close to Nashik which is about 100 km due east of Dahanu, the town of his birth. He spent his whole career teaching in Devlali until he retired at the age of 58 in 1962.
The fascination for numbers which Kaprekar had as a child continued throughout his life. He was a good school teacher, using his own love of numbers to motivate his pupils, and was often invited to speak at local colleges about his unique methods. He realised that he was addicted to number theory and he would say of himself:-
A drunkard wants to go on drinking wine to remain in that pleasurable state. The same is the case with me in so far as numbers are concerned.Many Indian mathematicians laughed at Kaprekar's number theoretic ideas thinking them to be trivial and unimportant. He did manage to publish some of his ideas in low level mathematics journals, but other papers were privately published as pamphlets with inscriptions such as Privately printed, Devlali or Published by the author, Khareswada, Devlali, India. Kaprekar's name today is well-known and many mathematicians have found themselves intrigued by the ideas about numbers which Kaprekar found so addictive. Let us look at some of the ideas which he introduced.
Perhaps the best known of Kaprekar's results is the following which relates to the number 6174, today called Kaprekar's constant. One starts with any four-digit number, not all the digits being equal. Suppose we choose 4637 (which is the first four digits of EFR's telephone number!). Rearrange the digits to form the largest and smallest numbers with these digits, namely 7643 and 3467, and subtract the smaller from the larger to obtain 4167. Continue the process with this number - subtract 1467 from 7641 and we obtain 6174, Kaprekar's constant. Lets try again. Choose 3743 (which is the last four digits of EFR's telephone number!).
What about other properties of digits which Kaprekar investigated? A Kaprekar number n is such that n2 can be split into two so that the two parts sum to n. For example 7032 = 494209. But 494 + 209 = 703. Notice that when the square is split we can start the right-hand most part with 0s. For example 99992 = 99980001. But 9998 + 0001 = 9999. Of course from this observation we see that there are infinitely many Kaprekar numbers (certainly 9, 99, 999, 9999, ... are all Kaprekar numbers). The first few Kaprekar numbers are:
Next we describe Kaprekar's 'self-numbers' or 'Swayambhu' (see [
For the final type of numbers which we will consider that were examined by Kaprekar we look at Harshad numbers (from the Sanskrit meaning "great joy"). These are numbers divisible by the sum of their digits. So 1, 2, ..., 9 must be Harshad numbers, and the next ones are
The self-numbers which are also Harshad numbers are:
Harshad numbers for bases other than 10 are also interesting and we can ask whether any number is a Harshad number for every base. The are only four such numbers 1, 2, 4, and 6.
We have taken quite a while to look at a selection of different properties of numbers investigated by Kaprekar. Let us finally give a few more biographical details. We explained above that he retired at the age of 58 in 1962. Sadly his wife died in 1966 and after this he found that his pension was insufficient to allow him to live. One has to understand that this was despite the fact that Kaprekar lived in the cheapest possible way, being only interested in spending his waking hours experimenting with numbers. He was forced to give private tuition in mathematics and science to make enough money to survive.
We have seen how Kaprekar invented different number properties throughout his life. He was not well known, however, despite many of his papers being reviewed in Mathematical Reviews. International fame only came in 1975 when Martin Gardener wrote about Kaprekar and his numbers in his 'Mathematical Games' column in the March issue of Scientific American.
Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson