Disturbed Genius in Penury :
Former IIT Prof. Vasistha Singh

By hiring the former IIT Kanpur professor, mathematician Dr. Vasistha Narayan Singh, the Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University (BNMU) in Madhepura is getting genius for cheap.

A cursory look at the trajectory of the man’s life shows something fit for Greek tragedy. His journey, from a village boy in Bihar, to a stint at NASA, was rapid and uncontested. His mathematical ability was profound and insights potentially world-changing. And yet, just five years after his return from the US he began showing clear signs of a mental breakdown.

Eventually, it was diagnosed as schizophrenia.

What could have been the possible catalyst for this catastrophic decline? Had Icarus flown too close to the sun? – After all, some of the greatest minds – Cantor, Zermelo, Gödel – engaged in this kind of abstract and logical thought had spent sometime in the asylum recovering.

Or was it more mundane: the stress of being back in India and close to poverty, after years of comfortable living in the US. Other’s have speculated that the doctor was using sleeping pills after his return, and they somehow contributed.

Regardless, the many and fragmented causes were potent enough to make him withdraw from productive society and seek refuge with his family and loved ones.

 For a while, the state supported him with his medical expenses. However, in a country that spends an atrociously low amount on healthcare – at around 1%, it is far lower than all of the BRICS countries – how advanced would its mental healthcare apparatus be?

For Dr. Vasistha, the Bihar government undertook the financial responsibility for his decade long treatment at CIP, Kanke. It is important to bring up certain issues relating to the exception provided to him: while, undoubtedly, he deserved and needed it, something like this is not done for the many others who require such treatments, which often utilizes expensive and hard-to-procure drugs. And this directly contributes to a public consciousness that doesn’t consider mental health issues as ‘real’ disease that can be treated.

And so, when his family underestimated the severity of his ailment and discontinued his medications, his problems resurfaced amplified. And almost immediately, he ran away from home, not to be seen for over a decade.

Living in penury, this extremely great mind seemed to have found a bitter grave. The fault lay not in any single cause but a confluence of causes originating from faults of the state, society, and his own family.

The media talks and extols the virtues of the human capital in this country. It points to the IITs, to the IIMs and other centers to excellence to showcase how well we are developing it.

But Vasistha Narayan Singh, an absolutely brilliant mind who has taught at IIT-K and worked at NASA, shows the darker side, and encapsulates the many unintended consequences of our collective neglect.

More on Dr. Vasistha Narayan Singh: [link]

The Hindu, on Indian HealthCare Spending: [Link]




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  1. Rohin AngralJanuary 4, 2015 at 2:44 pmReply

    Was looking for Mr. V N Singh online and came across this write up. Though it didn’t tell me anything new but gave me a glimpse of how other people are thinking and talking about it. I feel tired of accusing our governments and politicians, though the truth is that all of them are having their share of pie except people like Mr. Singh. The worth of a brilliant mind cannot be as it for Mr. Singh. The capitalist society which breeds greed for everything and institutions like IITs/IIMs and a thousand more worldwide are producing capitalist human resources in most cases. The moral ability to hold people together by working on subjects which bring good to the world and do justice to the poor are no more relevant. A human’s worth is just being measured in how much you earn and more than that how much you spend……I don’t know why i’m writing to you…..i think i’m sad about what is happening to a brilliant mind and many more such people in this country and i’m more sad knowing that how less i can do……but i’ll try. Sorry for taking your time. Ignore of you don’t like it.

  2. RaJanuary 11, 2015 at 7:25 amReply

    Some great minds have set backs too in terms of health. It may not be due to his stay abroad, or family problems. Where there is an active mind, there are some associated mental problems or severe health issues. A brilliant doesn’t mean, the person and their mind keeps on working forever.

    For what they did at one time, until recently one European nation looked after their son. he alone is the first Chief Minister that took trouble to go and visit Dr. Singh and enabled the genius to secure a position at the age of 67 or 68 against all regulations. The same credit goes to the university in Bihar(the Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University (BNMU) and its vice chancellor and the Maths Dept. who hired Dr. Singh.

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