India lost a renowned mathematician, Dr. Vashishtha Narayan Singh this Thursday. He passed away at a government hospital in Patna. The noted mathematician had an illustrious career having worked at the NASA and several IITs in India. He had been suffering from schizophrenia for a long time, before he passed away this Thursday.
Born in a poor family of Basantpur village in Bhojpur district of Bihar in the year 1942, the legendary mathematician did his schooling from Netarhat Residential School, near Ranchi. Later, he went on to graduate from the Patna Science College. During his graduation, Dr. Vashistha Narayan Singh met American Professor John L Kelley, who invited him to Berkeley, US for research.
The renowned Mathematician went to California University in 1963 and completed his PhD on “cycle vector space theory” from the University of California, Berkley in 1969 and then went on to work as an Associate Professor at the Washington University. He also had a wonderful stint with the NASA, where he proved his mettle with his mathematical skills. It is believed that at the time of launch of the Apollo program, all the devices had stopped working, and Dr. Vashistha Narayan Singh started calculating. The computer malfunction lasted 30 to 35 seconds, during which time he carried out a mathematical calculation. When the computer was fixed, his calculations and computer’s calculations were identical.
Despite a thriving career in the United States of America, Sr. Vashistha Narayan Singh returned to India in the year 1971, he went on to teach as an Associate Professor in IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Bombay and the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Later on, he joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. He is also said to have challenged Einstein’s theory of relativity.
In the midst of his illustrious career, he was however diagnosed with schizophrenia. The legendary mathematician spent four decades of his life with this illness.
The Bihar government however did not really come to the rescue of the mathematician during the difficult phase of his life. He brought laurels to India through his work in the field of mathematics.
He also left a thriving acamedic career in the United States and returned to India to contribute towards better academics in the country, but none of the Bihar Chief Ministers serving for a substantial period, including Jagannath Mishra, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, recognised his contribution. Even when he was ailing, it was the Netarhat Old Boys Association (NOBA) which helped in his treatment and other facilities.
In 1987, Dr. Singh returned to his village, but disappeared after a couple of years. Later on in 1993, he was found near a roadside eatery in Doriganj near Chhapra in Saran district of the state of Bihar. This is rather sad state of affairs. It exposes how the system fails to recognise and come to the rescue of a true hero of the country. The state government, the Union government and even the society did not do justice to Dr. Vashishtha Narayan Singh for his extraordinary contribution in the field of Mathematics.
Not only did the Bihar government fail to look after the legendary mathematician when he was ailing, even after his death he was not afforded the kind of respect that was due to him. As per his younger brother Ayodhya Prasad Singh, “After he (Dr. Vashishtha Narayan Singh) was declared dead, the body was kept in the open outside the hospital for over an hour as the hospital management did not provide him ambulance to take the body to the residence.” The district administration sprung into action only after the local media highlighted the issue and an ambulance was provided to take the body home.
Bihar CM, Nitish Kumar offered his condolences and called remembered him as a great mathematician. He was indeed a great mathematician, but what needs to be analysed is whether the Bihar government in particular and the society in general did justice to his contribution. We clearly failed in looking after him in the difficult phase of his life. Even after his death, he was not afforded the kind of treatment that a man of his stature deserved. The kind of treatment meted to him before and after his demise must be taken as an important lesson. We must ensure that we get rid of this inefficient system and another Dr. Vashishtha Narayan Singh does not have wait for an ambulance for over an hour. We have let Dr. Singh down, now the best we can do is ensure that we do not let another such legendary academician down in the future.