Disturbed Genius in Penury : Former IIT Prof. Vasistha Singh
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]