Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh, whom the outside world once described as India’s Einstein, passed away and will be cremated with `full state honours’, we read from the newspapers.
Also, we read about the President, the Prime Minister, Bihar Chief Minister, and all powerful people condoling his death and describing him as the `great’, “India’s pride’, “genius’, `wizard’, what not.
May be, all the attention came a bit too late. When he wanted, nobody bothered to attend.
But few of us have heard that even after his death, his body was left in the open in a stretcher waiting for an ambulance for one hour.
And still fewer of us know that his family has been begging for help from the mighty and the powerful for help as this renowned mathematician fought with penury, loneliness, and schizophrenia.
He was just 77 when he died. And the world did not get enough from the best part of his life.
As his mother and relatives took care of him with what they had at the distant village of Basantpur, they pleaded for help many times publicly. They wanted him to be shifted to Patna or Delhi for better treatment. But, we failed him.
But history will not forget him, not just for his extraordinary mathematical skills and intelligence, but for his amazing fight starting from a nondescript Bihar village to NASA.
Long before he fought with his own mind, he first fought with poverty as a child in a public school. His mathematics ability was first discovered at Netarhat Residential School near Ranchi from where, he moved to Patna Social College for higher studies.
His life was changed not by then leaders or rulers who wanted to promote his talent. He met Professor John L. Kelley, a renowned mathematician from the University of California Berkeley at a maths conference in Bihar. Kelley posed five mathematics problems to Singh, who instantly solved them all, and in multiple ways as well. Bowled over by his skills, Kelley enrolled Singh into UCB’s Mathematics PhD programme. Singh graduated from UCB ‘summa cum laude’ (with highest honours) in 1969, before taking on an assignment with NASA in the United States.
He was reportedly offered a full-time position at NASA but he turned it down and returned home. Singh taught at IIT-Kanpur, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research – Mumbai as well as the Indian Statistical Institute – Kolkata.
Unfortunately, at the peak of his skills, he started losing the grip on his mind. His marriage in 1974 also did not last beyond a few months, making him more withdrawn. His life was then confined to walls of Kanke Mental Asylum (now Central Institute of Psychiatry) till 1985. He went disappeared for four years in 1989, but was spotted in the village of Doriganj wearing rags.
We did very little to save this precious mind. But as usual, we are doing our level best once he is no more.