Many times people ask me on when exactly my thinking took a certain turn and the answer for that is when a guy called Satyendra came into my life who undoubtedly is the most intelligent and knowledgeable man I have ever met in my life. He was 2 years younger to me and my junior at Siddhartha Engineering College in Vijayawada. I was doing Civil engg. And he was in the Mechanical branch.
He was a voracious reader and after reading he used to analyze the book and the author with such intrinsic depth and detail that one would understand everything from what caused the author to write the book to its failings and what it would do to different individuals depending upon their individual sensibilities.
Not only the students but even the lecturers at the college used to be scared of his intelligence. I could literally see the tension on their faces whenever Satyendra raised his hand to ask a question.
He used to come to college in hawai chappals, sit in the last bench, borrow a paper torn from a fellow student’s book and scribble some points of the ongoing lecture. He used to leave the class abruptly once he felt he got the point of the lecture or if he felt that the lecturer was incapable of delivering it and he would rather read it in the relevant book.
I have seen him reading text books with as much ease as one would read a fiction novel. His interests were unimaginably varied and very intense. I used to feel that I knew a little about at least cinema but he knew and understood cinema many times more deeper than me and cinema was just one of his many many interests. He was the guy who introduced me to the teachings of the various philosophers starting from Plato, Emanuel Kant, Descartes, Schopenhauer, Ayan Rand and of-course Friedrich Nietzsche. He used to talk about those philosophers to me as if they were kids. I surely believed it at that time and believe that now too that Satyendra was more intelligent than all of them not necessarily because it was true but it’s because his understanding of them was far greater than mine and hence I couldn’t question Satyendra’s observations on them and their thoughts. So for all practical purposes he was higher than them for me.
He always used to see everything beyond the obvious. Both of us one day went to see a film called “Coma” based on a medical thriller written by Robin Cook. There was a scene in the film where the leading lady gets trapped in a cold storage with dead bodies hung in plastic sheets. Everybody who saw the film including me was terrified at the plight of the girl. But Satyendra talked about the dead bodies, on who they might have been as individuals. They would have laughed, cried and had their own dreams but now they are all reduced as mere props so as to invoke fear. So in reality he said the tragedy is more on the dead bodies than on the girl.
On another occasion we went to see a film called “Papillon” and in the interval we bumped into out college Principal. Satyendra told him he was watching the film for the 7th time. The Principal said that he didn’t find anything that great in the film to which Satyendra said that obviously he saw something in it which the Principal could not. To this the Principal said if he were so observant that he could see something no one else could see where is the need to see it 7 times, to which Satyendra replied “Why do you make love to your wife every day?”
Much later after his retirement that Principal wrote an article for a magazine “The one student I will never forget” based on his interactions with Satyendra.
When I was doing a project on building a residential colony for industrial personnel for my final year, I requested Satyendra to write a foreword for it. He just took a paper and pen started writing without thinking for a second. I still remember the first paragraph which goes something like this.
“Ever since the first quiverings of life animated a lifeless lump of clay it has been a biological imperative for every creature to seek shelter… shelter from the elements and shelter from the predators. Though in the animal world it remained more or less at an instinctive level, in humans it evolved into a complex form”.
Obviously my four years association with Satyendra and my understanding of him cannot be encompassed in this one article, not to forget I am still not sure whether I had or have the capacity to fully understand his brilliance. At best I could recognize it and I tried to feed on it.
After finishing college we were out of touch not by my choice but because he got bored with me. Years later when I was shooting for a film in his town, I tried to trace him as I came to know he left his home a few years earlier. I found him in a windowless room filled with all kinds of books. His eyes were filled with boredom which made me realize that he got saturated with knowledge and intelligence, and as a result there was no more excitement in his life
My relationship with him varied between admiration, awe and fear. I feared him mostly in the old times because I was insanely jealous of his brilliance and was angry that he could make me feel like a nobody.
Now I fear him because I have seen the negative effects of his brilliance. He is bored to death of everything and everyone in life and hence almost as good as dead. His eyes were unseeing when I met him last and I could see his mind was not responding as he cannot relate to any of the stuff that common people like me get excited about, and as a result he cut himself off from the world. The greatest thing that happened to my life was that he had a few conversations with me which changed my life, and the greatest fear he put in me is that, because of what happened with him, I realized that there can be actually such a thing as too much intelligence.
For all those who believe that Howard Roarks do no exist in the real world I want to tell them that “they do” and that I met and interacted with one. If Satyendra was Howard Roark in Fountainhead, I am not even a Peter Keating or Ellsworth Toohey. I am just a guy who tried to study and understand him… and I think I understood a little.
That’s about it.