Shock, denial, and Regret. Adios, my best teacher, mentor, and advisor.

About 7 am today, I woke up, only to notice a couple of messages on a Whatsapp group of friends, and on another group on Facebook.

“Prof. Ashish Sureka was no more.”

I went into shock. And denial. While everyone was sharing their reactions, I just didn’t know what to say. I picked up myself and went outside for a walk looking for an undisturbed spot at this place Narkanda where I arrived yesterday. It was a whole flashback of the old times. The shock continued for next several hours and I couldn’t gather strength to even check what really had happened.

I got to know the details that he decided to end his life due to the ongoing depression and had committed a suicide, much later when a friend and batchmate who happens to be from Narkanda called up to check how I was finding this place. The details of what had happened were brought to everyone’s attention from the Facebook post by another Professor from our alma mater. I went to see his post…

The post links to a blog post from Prof. Ashish who shared about his depression and his fight against the same in 2015. This was the first time I found this blogpost.

 

Talk to anyone who ever met him, one thing every single person will tell you is the extremely soft-spoken manner he always talked in. His ever smiling face was always full of positivity. In my two years of working closely with him, I don’t think I ever saw him angry. Without any doubt, he was one of the rare few people, everyone liked talking to.

Very early during my B.Tech. I got to work under his guidance and that continued to me taking all the courses he was teaching, and in parallel working with him on several projects, few of which got published in reputed conferences. I distinctly remember several of our meetings, discussions, high teas and the lunches in and outside our campus. Things he used to tell me, moments from the classes he was teaching, and our one-to-one conversations.

 

That’s me and the-always-smiling Prof. Ashish Sureka from one of the conferences we went to present a paper, one of the many times he provided me the opportunity to work with him.

And that’s us having a small celebration when our research group received a research grant.

 

“Atul, it’s not enough to just start things, it’s even more important to see them through and take them to their logical conclusion. Persevering won’t often be easy but that’s the only way to do good things that matter.”

“Atul, you should be more decisive and be part of the decision, and not just leave it up to others to decide for you.”

“Atul, you can do better than this.”

As far as memory goes, I always had an interest in programming but it was only after taking a course taught by him that I developed a real interest in Computer Science. What it really means to build something big, parts by parts. He was always supportive of me even during my academically difficult times, which doesn’t happen often in the education system. It’s safe to say that I am what I am, thanks to guidance by him.

Not long after this, my life took a turn and I happened to gradually move away from research towards the startup world and we happened to go out of touch. We barely spoke to each other in past 5 years. The only brief conversation that happened in a long time was on Twitter recently when in response to one of my Tweet he said…

 

In retrospect, he clearly was still suffering from depression and yet his response was so positive and motivating!

Now that I read his post from 2015, in which he tells others suffering with depression to

“…take the right treatment and surround yourself with supportive/positive people.

I find it incredibly selfish of me to not have been there in his difficult times, especially when he helped me so much. Forget about being there, I went so out of touch that I never even knew what he was going through.

It’s easy to tell yourself that nothing I would do, would have changed what happened, but maybe, just maybe? The thought that a small action from your side had a non-zero probability of changing an outcome so big and important, is something that makes digesting this incredibly sad news all the more difficult. Lately, I have been living a life without any regrets but this one, this one is a clear regret I have. This regret is a burden that would stay with me.

The minimum I can think of that I must do is reducing this self-imposed Vanvaas, and seeing more friends and family more often.

I surely can’t even imagine what his family and the people who were actually close to him during all this, must be going through.

To my best teacher, mentor, and advisor who is so unfortunately not among us anymore, I truly hope you find the peace up there.

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