Indian math wizard, IIT professor who worked with NASA went missing for years, was found in destitution
For those who know about his life, Vashishtha Narayan Singh is one of the most brilliant minds in India’s history. Born in 1942 in a little known village in Bihar’s Basantpur district, he was a child prodigy who then gained fame for topping BSc and then MSc in successive years. He then worked with the likes of NASA, prestigious institutes like IIT, Berkeley. He was set to become the next Ramanjuna before mental illness derailed a promising genius’ career. He turned into a ‘could have been’ within years and even went missing for years.
Vashishtha Narayan went from an unknown village in Bihar's Siwan district to worldwide fame. He is said to have challenged Albert Einstein’s famous theory. One famous legend about him claims that he was called in for calculations by NASA when the premier space agency’s computers broke down. Another legend is that he contributed to NASA’s effort to send man on the moon in the Apollo missions.
Vashishtha Narayan was the son of a police constable. He studied at the Netarhat School in Jharkhand and then went to Patna Science College. He was quickly recognised as a child prodigy and a mathematics wizard. The college principal was so impressed with his brilliance that he got the governor and university chancellor to bend the rules to have his education expedited. He earned his PhD in 1969.
Prof John L Kelly recognised his genius and arranged for him to come to the US at University of California, Berkely. After nearly 9 years in the US, Vashishtha Narayan returned to India. He taught at prestigious institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai and the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata. He got married but mental illness struck soon after.
The genius suffered from schizophrenia. The illness led to his marriage ending in just a couple of years as his wife left him in 1976. His academic stardom was also soon forgotten and by the mid 80s he was an institutionalised patient. After coming out of treatment, Vashishtha Narayan suddenly disappeared in the middle of a train journey. Years later, he was found living as a destitute in his home village.
He was admitted to mental health institution Nimhans Bengaluru and then BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha arranged for him to be treated at IHBAS Delhi. Struggling with his illness, the genius became an unknown. He returned to academics later in his life joining BNMU Madhepura. The math genius who couldn’t achieve his greatness died at 72 on November 14, 2019. He was honoured with the Padma Shri award posthumously.