Aug 25, 2008

Sandeep Shelke: Adieu

As some of you who knew him may have already heard, Sandeep Shelke passed away last night. He is said to have taken his life by leaping off the 7th floor of Persistent Towers, which is in the Erandwana area of Pune. The police say that he left a note behind and sent a text message to his brother, citing a heavy workload as the reason. Persistent Systems has commented that there was no prior indication to this effect and Sandeep had not spoken to anyone at work about such pressures. According to the Zee 24 hours marathi news channel, neither was Sandeep’s family aware of this.

This naturally comes as a severe shock to those like me who knew him. I wasn’t close to Sandy, but I came to know him as a batchmate at IIT Bombay (he was in CSE and I was in KReSIT; the departments have since merged) and as a fellow research student in the NLP group (we shared the same advisor). He was undeniably smart, both by acumen and appearance. I can never recall him looking unkempt, which at IIT is quite something. It’s ironic that this incident comes almost exactly a year since the 2007 IIT-B convocation.

What do you do when you hear news such as this? You ask people, you look for the last trails online, scrabbling for information, you sit and wonder. To give you a sense of our amazement, hardly anyone in his inner and outer circle seems to have had any inkling. True, Sandy was probably quieter than most people with regards to such talk with anyone outside to those to which he was closest. He had had an uncomfortable time in the First Semester of the M.Tech programme. I never probed the exact reasons; I didn’t want to crowd him, but it was partly the load of the course (the first sem is a bit of a bitch). But we were glad to see him emerge out of that pall and do a fine job in the remaining 18 months. Which is why this is a shame. I wish he had thought about that Ph.D more. He had such a fine time in France in the spring of 2006.

Predictably, this is going to spark the inevitable “techies under stress" stories in the local media, some of them likely to be half-baked. Having also been at Persistent in the past (overlapping with Sandy’s first term) and with several friends there, I would not like to think that the situation could have become so arduous (but in this case, it somehow did). I’ve already seen some forums say all sorts of things about Sandy and the situation (some of the content being factually incorrect, such as confusing the bio of a very different Sandeep Shelke from Pune with this incident). All I’d like to say that there’s a family, some friends, some colleagues, who’re probably even more baffled, devastated, angry, and incoherent than we can imagine. Please give them their space. I do hope that there isn’t much more to this than we have heard.

The life of a depressive isn’t easy to fathom. Instead of speculation, take a look around, have a chat, pull yourselves together. We still want you around, you still want me around for a little time more. Sandy: how do we tell you all the nice things we thought of you if you aren’t around to hear ‘em, hmm? Cheers man, and will remember all the little moments.

A few links:
Sandeep’s CSE homepage, his Orkut page, his blog, and his younger brother Yuvraj’s Orkut page

Some updates – 8 Aug 2008
The incident received a lot of coverage in local newspapers. I overheard several people talking about it; all were very upset and saddened. Sandeep’s Orkut scrapbook was filled with messages today, most of them from strangers, who lamented the loss and wished things had turned out differently. I was busy for most of the day, so I couldn’t find out what the mood at Persistent was like.

Links: Times of India (Pune), DNA, Indian Express (contains factual errors that “He had completed his higher studies from America and had been working with Persistent Systems for two years."). Like many other blogs and news sites, the Pune Mirror cannibalized content on blogs, online forums, and Orkut scraps to fill a second page on the incident and the predictable “IT engineer-stress" theme. It also incorrectly claimed that Sandeep was in the IT industry for 7 years.

Update – 25 Aug 2008
I haven’t been able to find out what progress has been made in tying the threads in Sandeep’s case, but this news article in the Times of India (assuming it has been accurately reported) gives some clues to the current status. The report quotes a sub-inspector as saying:

What baffles the police is that the CCTV images before his suicide do not show any abnormal behaviour . "Sandip (sic) was seen walking freely and working on his laptop. We also enquired with his friends, who said that neither did he have any problems with anyone nor did he have any quarrel with any of his superiors,'' said sub-inspector U.K. Yadav.

"Probably, Shelke was bored with the mechanical life he was leading. We could gather that he was unable to spare quality time for himself due to the work pressure,'' Yadav added.

Perhaps "bored" isn’t the right choice of word, as it is hard to imagine Sandeep taking such steps because he was "bored".

The report later says:

But apart from work pressure, at times the inability to do the things which one actually wants to also leads to frustration. This was particularly observed in Shelke's case.
It doesn’t give any particulars though.

I (and others) still remain puzzled.

5 comments:

Vinay Nathan said...

Thanks for that post Ramanand. Having been his project guide in B.E. this came as an absolute shock. Just can't comprehend what might have led to this situation.

Needless to say being a Persistent employee for several years now, the twisted headlines in the media are disheartening to say the least.

You touched upon both the themes in my head.

Ramanand said...

Vinay: thanks for the note. I hope people at Persistent manage to figure out what happened and how to move on to better times.

Samrat said...

Poignant account, I remember Sandeep's face and name from the PSPL days. Though never interacted with him.

Can't fathom the circumstances behind this.

Hope the media doesn't create a circus around this.
May his soul rest in peace, and his family members have the strength to endure this.

People at Persistent will also be pretty shattered, and with the slew of negative publicity, fault finding and over-reaction that is expected. hope they cope well.

Shriniwas Kulkarni said...

Sad Story ... May his soul rest in peace.

Though I do not directly know Sandeep, I have loads of friends from JP, SP, PICT, IITB and PSPL who knew him personally and since his life fits/relates so much closely with ours, I am aghast by his decision to end his life.

Low self esteem due to depression can be a chronic problem (I have seen the antics of persons who are suicidal - some due to failure of love and others due to failure in exams - but Sandeep's case seems really strange). I also know that the project he was working in did not have even the standard PSPL load.

PSPL is demanding, but by no means it can be blamed for someone's stress. Assuming Sandeep did not have problems with a secret girlfriend (which I still have a hunch can be the reason), I can only blame our society (sorry Chad Vader). Attempts at celebrating life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is riddled by double standards, hypocrisy, social out casting of certain individuals, lack of spirituality that works and more importantly lack of forums which help people with problems.

Brings me to asking the question - that he may have been to Jnana Prabodhini, SP, PICT, PSPL and IIT (which is like a perfect 10 educational profiles) but was he really educated?

In US there is a 1-800 helpline for people with suicidal tendencies. Knowing that India is the suicide capital of the world, why don't "NGOs" come out and help such people.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

This seems to be the only blog with right information about Sandeep's tragedy.

Even today, the reasons that drove Sandeep to take this seem unknown. I had not interacted with Sandeep, but his blogs do not reflect a self destructive mind.

Till the time I was at PSPL, I have to admit that things were really bad. To people outside, it seems that PSPL has a cream of talented engineers. That is not totally untrue. But, what is never mentioned is the untold mental harassment these talented people are subjected to by the corporate 'inlaws' - the generally incompetent people who cannot do things on their own, but are happy spoil careers and lives of the really talented people. And there were people other than Sandeep who were prone to suicide.

Yes. Sandeep was depressed. (Its surprising that no one seemed to notice, or Sandeep must have hidden it very well). PSPL, to the last time I knew, is a culture of cliques - people forming their own private association within the company for mutual benefit - and talent does not matter here. These cliques, behind people's back and closed doors, make it difficult for people who are really talented, or have a different opinion. Intrestingly, these cliques spread gossip and false rumours and even bend low to spoil HR record of the 'target'. Sandeep was a victim of such people. Sadly, these people are the Managers and their chamchas, whose capabilities are limited only to the paper, but feed on their talented colleagues.

I came to know of Sandeep when his unfortunate news broke out. Very little was discussed at the time. I do know that some of his colleagues tried to do their bit in helping him get out of his depression. Again, the company communication service took care of it. Some accounts say that the police case was compromised.

Vey little has changed despite this tragedy. Even today, friends in PSPL tell me how the company continues to be ruled by these corporate 'in laws'. There was another such case. People are really depressed in PSPL, and do not go to HR because HR only makes matters worse. Good talent is leaving the company on good numbers. Sadly, one cannot even take up this sick state of affairs since by the book of law, nothing can be proved. In some cases, the harassment continues even after the person has left PSPL.

I think leaving PSPL was a right decision. Things are much better in my current place. We do not necessarily have a cream of talented people, but the talented people are not harassed.

I still can feel the shock when I heard the news that day. I pray to God, not another Sandeep Shelke please.

Amol