Series on schizophrenia 1: The death that could have been avoided

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Part 1 of our series on schizophrenia kicks off with a father’s pain [Photo: Magindren at his happiest with his two children, Ganesh and Shalini]

How do you move on from a son lost? Magindren Reganathan tells The Independent Singapore  his family has been through the cruellest of heartaches after his NS son’s body was found at the foot of their condominium in Sengkang  in July last year.

He believes his son’s death could have been avoided if the military, which knew the boy had schizophrenia, had treated him with some care.  Magindren is now in search of closure.

 

Every time Magindren goes to Plaza Singapura, he lingers at the pet store he got his son, Ganesh Pillay, goldfishes.

“I bought the goldfishes to cheer him up. He had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I got him the fishes and he said it made him feel better. I was really happy,” the 54-year-old father said, tears welling in his eyes.

As a child, Ganesh liked dinosaurs. And later on in life, he was fascinated by drawing and animation.

Like his father, who is an art director, Ganesh was good at drawing, not that great with numbers.

Later on, he enrolled in a digital animation course at Macpherson Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

“When he graduated from ITE, I thought he could make it to one of the polytechnics. His GPA was above 3.”

Armed with his portfolio, Ganesh and his father went from one polytechnic to another. None took him in. Their MP, Charles Chong, wrote a letter to the polytechnics on their behalf.

Yet, Ganesh was not accepted. The polytechnics wrote back to me and said Ganesh’s CCA score was not enough, said Magindren.

“I remember sitting with him in the canteen. He was crying. I kept telling him, ‘we will find a way. You are not a stupid boy.’

“We finally went to Lasalle College of the Arts. They took a look at his portfolio and he was accepted that day itself.”

“But he became withdrawn. He missed his old friends, some of whom went to ITE and some to polytechnics.

“In his final year, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I cried. I asked the doctor three times to confirm. But the doctor told me I got to be brave for my son.

“So I told Ganesh, ‘don’t worry, schizophrenia can be managed. I will help you.’

“At that time, he needed to submit his final year projects in order to graduate.

“That was when I bought him the goldfishes.

“In the end, he passed his course. I was so happy, even though he had schizophrenia.”

“But when I said to him, ‘you are now a higher diploma holder, not an ITE student anymore’, he did not respond.

“He still wanted a polytechnic’s recognition, he had believed it would lead to a good degree course. He had it in his head, private colleges were not as good as polytechnics.”

It was not long after, when Ganesh was serving his national service that his condition deteriorated. Magindren became worried.

“Ganesh went back to the camp on July 1. He texted me on July 3, ‘daddy don’t worry I am fine, I am in control.’”

But Magindren never saw his son again.

“On July 5, I was at work, rushing to meet a deadline. I called to check on him, ‘Ganesh, go and eat the chicken rice I bought for you. Don’t worry, daddy will take care of you when I come home.’

“At 8 pm that night, it was his body that I had to pick up.”

It has been almost one year. The Coroner called it a suicide and had some strong words for Ganesh’s officer at Katib camp.

The Coroner said that Ganesh supervisor did not comprehend the seriousness and effects of schizophrenia.

But so much is still left unanswered for the family.

“The army, the officers who took care of my son, will not talk about my son’s death to me. I want to know what happened to him on that day.

“How was Ganesh treated? Did his mental illness get worse? Did anyone know he was getting worse?

“Why didn’t anyone pick up the signs if he was mentally unwell?

“I want a dialogue, I want closure. Help me come to terms with my son’s death.”

Magindren looks at the goldfishes at Plaza Singapura and walks away in a daze, trying to fight the tears of a father trying to come to terms with a fate that his son should not have suffered.