Vashishtha Narayan Singh (2 April 1946 – 14 November 2019) was an Indian academic. A child prodigy, he completed his PhD in 1969. He taught mathematics at various institutes in the 1960s and 1970s. Singh was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the early 1970s and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He went missing during a train journey and was found years later. He was again admitted to the hospital and later returned to academia in 2014. He was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilan award of India, posthumously in 2020.
Singh was born on 2 April 1946 to Lal Bahadur Singh, a police constable, and Lahaso Devi in the Basantpur village of the Bhojpur district in Bihar, India.
Singh was a child prodigy. He received his primary and secondary education from Netarhat Residential School, and he received his college education from Patna Science College. He received recognition as a student when he was allowed by Patna University to appear for examination in the first year of its three-year BSc (Hons.) Mathematics course and later MSc examination the next year.
Singh joined the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 and received a PhD in Reproducing Kernels and Operators with a Cyclic Vector (Cycle Vector Space Theory) in 1969 under doctoral advisor John L. Kelley.
After receiving his PhD, Singh joined the University of Washington at Seattle as an assistant professor, and then returned to India in 1974 to teach at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. After eight months, he joined Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay where he worked on a short-term position. Later he was appointed as a faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.
The late mathematician, Vashishtha Narayan Singh, on Saturday, was honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award of India. Ahead of the 71st Republic Day, names of 118 awardees who will be conferred with the Padma Shri Awards on Sunday have been announced. These are the people who have done extremely well in different walks of life. The awards have been given for several categories such as social work, art, and medicine.
Vashishtha Narayan Singh
Late mathematician Vashishtha Narayan Singh was born in Basantpur village of Bhojpur district. He completed his schooling in Netarhat in undivided Bihar. Singh graduated from the Patna Science College and completed his PhD on cycle vector space theory from the University of California in 1969. He used to teach at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Singh was also a visiting professor at the BN Mandal University, Madhepura.
Vashishtha Narayan Singh’s fight with mental illness
Vashishtha Narayan Singh passed away last year on November 14, at the age of 72. The mathematician’s journey is often compared to Ramanujan’s, but he misses out in the race because of the early occurrence of his illness. The Tamil mathematician Ramanujan passed away succumbing to his ailment – hepatic amoebiasis, while Vashishtha lost his life to schizophrenia. Vashishtha was widely cited and recognised for his 1969 PhD dissertation, ‘Reproducing Kernels and Operators with Cyclic Vector I’.
Vashishta Narayan Singh started to show the signs of mental instability during the peak of his career around 1973-74. As per media reports, by 1980 the illness had completely gripped him. He was admitted to the Kanke Mental Asylum — today the Central Institute of Psychiatry in Jharkhand. Reports say that he understood mathematics, but he spoke gibberish. He left the institution in 1985 and vanished after two years.
He was later discovered in 1989 covered in rags. It was this time when the then Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad sent him to Nimhans (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences), Bangalore. Actor Shatrughan Sinha also arranged for his treatment at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Delhi.