Facebook seems to be the new platform for recognizing our heroes who have gone into oblivion despite doing wonderful work in the past. The latest in the line of these heroes whose story is doing rounds on Facebook these days is the legendary Mathematician, Dr. Vashishtha Narayan Singh of Basantpur, Bihar.
Looking at the old photo of him wearing a monkey cap and a muffler that is going around on Facebook, it would be difficult to imagine that this person once worked at NASA. But such is the down to earth personality of Singh. His extraordinary mind was recognized right from his school days at the Netarhat Residential School in Patna. The teachers gave him questions which were much above his academic level. But he took little time in coming up with the solutions. It is alleged that these tough questions were posed at him at the behest of the school principal who had received complaints about Vashishtha disturbing class by asking questions that even confused the teachers.
His reputation grew manifolds when the Patna University allowed him to undertake a two-year B.Sc mathematics course. The University changed its rules for Singh and allowed him to sit for the final exams right after his first year got over. To everyone’s surprise, he passed with flying colors. After his post graduation, he went to the University of California in Berkeley and pursued PhD where his topic of research was ‘Reproducing Kernels and Operators with a Cyclic Vector’. After getting his PhD, he joined NASA.
But the fairy tale was about to take a drastic turn. One day, colleagues saw him insulting his junior for a mistake in a manner which was very unlike him. His friends took him to a doctor where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
After a short stint with NASA, he came back to India to work as a faculty at a number of high profile institutes including IIT Kanpur, ISI Kolkata and TIFR Bombay. As the months went by, the disease started to take a toll on his mental condition. It was in 1980 that he was referred to Ranchi’s mental hospital, viz. Central Institute of Psychiatry (CIP).
Post his return, his family refused to accept him as a patient of a mental disease. They forced him to discontinue the medications prescribed by the doctors in the US. His wife filed for a divorce after his condition further deteriorated. For close to a decade, he was kept under the custody at CIP. In 1990, he came out on a parole to attend his father’s last rites. Fed up of the life at CIP, he never went back to the institute and was termed ‘missing’ for a number of years. It was only a few years back that he was found and taken to his native village in Bihar.
After the media brought him in the limelight a couple of years back, he was appointed as a visiting professor at the Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University. Gems like Dr. Vashishtha Narayan Singh come once in the lifetime of a nation. It is a pity that India hasn’t realized his potential and he has just become a Facebook post urging for likes and shares.