I am not a very social person. I have few friends. When I lost one of them to suicide recently; I came to know how much it can disturb one. Siva was my classmate when I was doing my masters at IIT Bombay. In social hierarchy of IIT he belonged to a higher caste (Dual Degree) while I was a member of backward caste (M. Tech). It is not usual for a M.Tech. to have friends among B.Tech. or Dual Degree students. Some even claims that they do not mix.
I never noticed him in or outside the classroom. We had totally different characters. He never spoke in the classroom and I could never remain silent for too long, even when I had nothing interesting to say. He had a tidy mind and ability for "linear" thinking. He could easily hold on to a problem for a long time; I, on the other hand, had a terrible random mind. He worked with methods and I preferred intuitions. His solutions were mostly right, I struggled — still struggle — to get them right in first attempt.
I met him first time in person when I rejoined the department for Ph.D. program and Prof. Narayanan advised me to ask him about courses I have to take. Coming back to staying in IIT for a second degree is not something one normally does. Those who works in Indian universities suffer from great many disadvantages, and those who work in American or European universities enjoy many benefits, including an added social status. I can only speculate how much this can contribute to depression and feeling of inferiority when one is extremely sensitive about how their peers are doing abroad. And world seems to be welcoming them with open arms. No matter how loudly we deny it, we Indians are extremely sensitive about our peers.
He joined the department for his PhD. a semester before I joined. He was working with Prof. H. Narayanan. I was involved with Prof. Patkar and we belonged to more of less same group in department. While I was learning system design and programming, and he was working on sub-modular functions and Matroids.
I was in Hostel 12 and he was in Hostel 14, a 5 minute walk away. I rarely talked with anyone outside classroom and my TA job. But I enjoyed talking to him. I am a horrible listener and he was a horrible speaker. Moreover, he never tried to change the flow of conversation and listen to everything I had to say. He never corrected me on my social theories but pinpointed any error whenever I talked on technical things. If I had an solution, I’d go to him to discuss it. Most of the time he would throw cold water on my solution by pointing out rather silly mistakes committed here and there. But we rarely discussed problems, most of the time it was plain GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) talk.
Siva mood was monotonic and his life at IIT had a fixed routine and he wouldn’t have it other way. It was impossible to tell what mood he was in. He used to say that he does not think about anything random and whenever he gets bored, he prefers to sleep. He had no interest in physical activity. Only sports I saw him playing was chess, and occassionaly, table-tennis if he could find someone to play with him. Whenever I went to his room in the evening before sunset, I found him sleeping. He would open the door after few knocks and then wash his face. We’d go to the terrace and I’d pass comments on birds, eagles, mosquitoes, trees and other animals (students).
After completing 3 years in Ph.D. program, I was getting bored (or perhaps feeling burnt out) and somewhat depressed. I thought of making a change before it was too late. I took medical leave for a year and left IIT in August for NCBS Bangalore where I am currently working. I talked to Siva once a month or so from Bangalore and he would have no gossips or news to share. When I visited Mumbai on Jan 1 this year, I stayed with him during the night. I found nothing unusual with him. I came back on Jan 3 and after ten days, I get to know from his father that he was missing.
My first guess was that he went for a short trip, even though I knew that this is not something he would do. He did not like to go out of the campus, a trait which I shared with him. Now, when I try hard to think about the possible reason why he committed suicide, I can think of none. Sometimes I feel that I should consider it an accident rather a suicide. A fertile mind can be a horrible thing to have when it plays tricks with itself. Who know which idea can get into your head and what sort of feeling it creates and sustain!
I have suicidal tendencies too but they are directed at career rather than life. It has been said that being introvert and cutting connections from the larger world is not a good thing for a person especially in a culture which puts a high value on social connections and condemns anyone who is odd or different. Social life is mostly lived in man’s mind and it is confusing and unpredictable. Many have tried to find ways to sail through it painlessly if not happily. Each life takes its own course and one has to find his own philosophy to sail through it. My opinion about life that having hobbies helps a great deal. It makes me wonder sometimes, if it was the lack of hobbies which convinced him that living was pointless. One wishes that community and authorities on the campus will not treat is just another case of personal mismanagement but also consider the institutional and social arrangement relevant here.