Another Beautiful Mind

April 2, 2018

"This [the tie between genius and madness] cannot be ascribed to chance, for on the one hand the number of mad persons is relatively very small, and on the other hand a person of genius is a phenomenon which is rare beyond all ordinary estimation, and only appears in nature as the greatest exception… It might seem from this that every advance of intellect beyond the ordinary measure, as an abnormal development, disposes to madness."

- Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

Vasantpur is a village 12 km from Ara in Bihar’s Bhojpur district. The village however is more famously known as "Vashishtha Babu ka gaon", for it is here in one of those simple houses that mark the landscape of the village that a man of rare intellect was born. A man whose life seemed full of promise but ended up being pitiful at best. A man who was blessed with an extraordinary intelligence but cursed with an ill fated life. This is the story of Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh, a mathematical genius turned schizophrenic. This is the story of hope and despair. This is the story of another beautiful mind.


Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh

The year was 1942. It was the year that marked the start of a historical civil disobedience movement across the country. It was the year Indira Gandhi, the third prime minister of India, married a Parsi lawyer and insurgent, Feroze Gandhi. It was also the year that marked the birth of the two most iconic actors of the Indian film industry; Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Yet for Lal Bahadur Singh and Lahaso Devi none of those events mattered as much as the birth of their son, Vashishtha Narayan Singh.

Singh was a bright lad. A student of Netarhat Residential School, Ranchi, (then one of the best government schools in east India) he topped the state ranks in the matriculation exams of 1957 and the intermediate exams in 1961. Thereafter he was admitted into the Patna Science College where the extent of his intellectual prowess became very much evident.

Dr Nagendra Nath, the then principal of Patna Science College, once summoned Singh to his chamber after having received several complaints regarding the boy’s unwarranted behavior that constituted asking questions that were often unrelated to the topics that were being dealt with during the mathematics sessions. Dr Nath, himself a teacher of mathematics, wanted to test the boy’s intelligence and therefore posed a set of questions that were beyond Singh’s present academic domain. To his surprise, however, Singh had not only solved the questions but also pointed out that there were more than one ways in which the questions could be answered. Dr Nath was bewildered.

Recognizing the genius in Singh, the governor cum chancellor of the university amended the rules of the university and allowed Singh to answer the BSc (maths honours) final exam after his very first year in college.
Singh topped the class with a distinction.

At the end of his second year, he was allowed to take the MSc (maths) final exam, and that too he topped.

It was during his time at the Patna Science College that Singh met Professor John Kelly, the head of the department of mathematics at the University of Berkeley (UCB). Impressed by the profound knowledge of mathematics that Singh possessed, Prof Kelly invited him to Berkeley. When Singh declined the offer stating that the poor economical condition of his family prevented him from being a part of such an expensive undertaking, Prof. Kelly assured him that he’d look after the expenses for the flight and would make arrangements for scholarships that would enable Singh to pursue his graduation at the University of Berkeley.

Singh’s future, to all those who knew him then, seemed to be a sea of great possibilities.

But little did anyone know, least of all Singh himself, that the great possibilities that Singh’s future seemed to promise would end tragically.


Past the courtyard, where woman sit making pickles, is a windowless room, whose walls were once a bright pink. Now the paint is peeling and the walls are soiled. An old copy of a doctorate degree hangs desultorily amid stacks of mathematics books and a black plastic board with chalk scrawls on it. On a bed strewn with religious books, beneath a pink mosquito net, lies a fragile figure with a grey stubble and vacant eyes.

Sometimes, a spark lights up the grey eyes of that man. Singh, for that is who he is, scrawls some equations on a piece of paper and cries out triumphantly that they stand solved. Everyone looks askance. At such times, you feel a great sense of sadness in the people around. That’s because if Singh had inscribed mathematical formulae on a notebook 30 years ago, academics and students across the world would have scrambled to know what the man had jotted down.

(An excerpt from an article in the Business Standard titled ‘India’s Own Beautiful Mind?’ by Satyavrat Mishra.)


After graduating summa cum laude (with highest honor) from the University of Berkley, in 1969, Singh submitted his PhD thesis titled "Reproducing Kernels and Operators with Cyclic Vector" which received several acclaims. He was then offered a lucrative and prestigious assignment with NASA, the details of which, however, are muddled. It is claimed that when in NASA during the Apollo mission, a glitch in the computer program had rendered it inoperable and in the time it took to get the computer working again, Singh had done the computations himself which was later found to agree with those made by the computer itself. The second claim that is made about Singh, and one which is considered to have no evidence for, is that he had challenged the mass-energy relationship of Albert Einstein himself. Both these claims remain unresolved, for the man who could put to rest the ambiguities that the claims entail is in no state to remember coherently anything of his past except for a few memories here and there.

He speaks but only when spoken to, and avoids eye contact while speaking. When asked about his stay in Berkeley, he says with some lucidity, "I had a very good time there. I used to live at 10/20 Vine Road or was that 20/10?" Then just as suddenly he loses his train of thought. He mumbles, "But all of that has been destroyed now. Don’t you know Russia dropped atom bombs there? America is a wasteland now. Kelly sahib is also very worried." His nephew, Rakesh, tells him that his mentor died many years ago. Singh insists, "No, no, he is alive. I spoke to him last night. He is in Delhi."

(Excerpt: ‘India’s Own Beautiful Mind?’ by Satyavrat Mishra)


In the year 1972, Singh, giving away to his family’s wishes, married the daughter of a government doctor from a village close to his own. A month later, the couple flew to America were Singh was working as an assistant professor at the University of Berkeley.

It was during this period of his life that Singh began to show signs of a psychical affliction. An incident that involved him rebuffing his junior for an error in a way that was unexpected of him led to his consultation with a psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with an early onslaught of schizophrenia and was prescribed a few therapeutic medicines. His wife, who had no inkling of her husband’s condition, enquired about the pills that he had been taking and brought it to the notice of her father and Singh’s family as well. The couple returned to India in 1974.

Singh joined as a faculty member at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur but was "fed up with the internal politics" there and moved to Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai. He later began teaching at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata and by then his condition had begun to worsen, owing to the discontinuity of the medicines that his family members had forced him to forgo.

His wife, distressed over her husband’s condition divorced him and left him fighting his battle alone. This worsened his mental state further after which he turned withdrawn, forwent eating and later turned violent. The family was forced to admit him at Kanke Mental Asylum which is now, Central Institute of Psychiatry (CIP).

It had been decided that the expense incurred during Singh’s treatment at CIP, that lasted over a decade, would be borne by the government of Bihar yet, just as any other promise made by any other government, the Bihar government failed to keep up to its words and the bills remained outstanding.

Having spent a considerable amount of time at CIP, Singh had shown signs of improvement. When he came back home to attend his father’s last rites, he refused to return to Ranchi and stayed in Pune with his brother. On a train journey to Ranchi for a check-up in 1989, Singh went missing. And it was only in the year 1993 that he was spotted in Saran’s Doriganj village in a wretched state.


‘Talking about the ailment Vashishtha came to be afflicted with initially, Dr, Minz [the doctor at CIP under whose unit Singh was being treated] explained to me elaborately the protocol of treatment that’s normally followed in three stages – therapeutic, maintenance and preventive – each requiring administration of prescribed medicines for prolonged duration and an absolute personalized care. In larger percentage of such cases, the patients, on early diagnosis of this ailment, get back to near normal status. In Vashishtha’s case, however, Dr Minz laments, discontinuation of the medicines at the initial stage of treatment, was a serious lapse and a huge blunder on the part of his family members – somewhat also foolish and irresponsible act – that made the patient’s life truly miserable. That simply closed all probability for the patient to stage a recovery. By the time he got admitted in CIP his ailment had reached an advanced stage from where recovery was a challenge, both for the patient and the doctor. As it turned out, odds were heavily stacked against the patient and his vanishing act while on parole made it further worse. The patient is now faced to live with it for the rest of his life.’

(An excerpt from a blog post titled ‘Life Journey of Mathematics Wizard Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh’ by Narendra Bhagat)


The news of Singh’s disappearance and the state of his being when found, drew the attention of the then chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who up until then had been blissfully ignorant of his presence. He sent Singh to NIMHANS, Bangalore, and offered government jobs to five of his family members. In 2002, when the NDA came into power, Bharatiya Janata Party MP and actor Shatrughan Sinha made arrangements to have Singh treated at the Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Delhi. Singh returned home from IHBAS in 2009.


In 2013, Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University (BNMU) in Madhepura, as an honorary gesture, offered Singh the post of visiting professor, which he accepted. During his conversation with the university’s teachers and officials, he expressed his fondness for teaching functional mathematics thereby putting in words his deep desire to be a part of an academia as a teacher. Officials had expressed delight at the fact and had said that his presence at the university would prove to be an asset and an inspiration for research scholars and postgraduate scholars.


Today, April 2, marks the 76th birthday of Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh. He still resides in his ancestral house where he lives with his mother, brothers and their family (as of 2013). The pension of one of the brothers and the salary of the other is the only income of the family that spends about Rs. 1,800 per month on Singh’s medicines. Singh still lives in the fragments of his pasts, only rarely making a detour into the present. According to doctors, not only does he live in his own past where he was a bright academic, he also lives in the era of Einstein and Newton and during one of his interviews he had even said, "While in America, Einstein and I together made the atom bomb." While this statement may seem comical, it only goes to prove the extent of his schizophrenic delusions.

Doctors are hopeful about Singh’s recovery, stating that the chronic schizophrenia that he suffers from can be treated if medication continues and he remains in a healthy environment. Modern medicines can, they believe, allow Singh to rid himself off the cloud of derangement that has settled on his mind. But for this to happen Singh needs help, more than what his family can afford. Both the state and the central government must realize their part in the scheme of things and provide the man with what he truly and desperately needs; a proper treatment. And instead of such sporadic aid that they have rendered in the past, they must work on a long term support plan that would enable, if as the doctors say possible, a complete recovery of Vashishtha Narayan Singh; a man who deserves much more than what life had to offer.

Author's Note: 
This article has been my effort to bring to light the story of an Indian scientist whom only a few have ever heard or read about. His life is a source of inspiration to us all. Let us on this special day wish Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh, a happy birthday and offer our heartfelt regards for a perfect recovery from the malady that ails him.






5. Vashishtha Narayan Singh image credits:


By Vyakya
Vyakya is a writer, educator and compulsive thinker based in Mangaluru. He blogs at Contemplations of a Compulsive Thinker ( and can be contacted there. He divides his time between the real and the fictional world and when not writing, reading or teaching, he contemplates about life, universe and everything (often, he adds, in vain).
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Comment on this article

  • Twinkle M, Toronto, Canada

    Thu, Apr 12 2018

    Indeed a very beautiful mind! Kudos Vyaka, thanks for this article.

  • Henry Mascarenhas, Greenville, NC, USA

    Fri, Apr 06 2018

    Thank you for your article, was not aware of this great man. Hope he will find peace and solace. Mental ailment is a cruel disease, it robs you of everything you have, how sad.

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