The Father of Indian Statistics

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Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

Luckily that day, the brilliant physics student missed the train, otherwise, how would India get the greatest statistician of all time?

1912. The guy after getting his honours degree in Physics from the Presidency College (now, University) left India for higher studies. He wanted to study at the London University but he could not reach the station in time from the port. So he had to take shelter in a foreigner’s house, who was known to him. After staying a whole night he changed his decision and planned to take admission to King’s College under the Cambridge University. His subject was Mathematics and Physics. That year he got the first division. Cambridge honored him as a senior research fellow. He started research in Cavendish Laboratory. His guide was Nobel laureate physicist Charles Tomson Ridge. At the same time, a famous mathematician Hardy invited a clerk of Madras Port Trust there, whom the world came to know as “The man who knew infinity”. There this guy got his friend Ramanujan.

He planned to come back to his country to spend the vacation. Due to the world war, his ship started late. At that time one of his professors W.H. McCarley gave him ‘Biometrica’ written by Karl Pearson. He bought the whole 9 volumes of that book and these journals turned his life in a different way, which gave birth to a new field in science, may he also didn’t know that day. He couldn’t get a chance to go back, he was invited to be a professor in physics in the Presidency College. He already fell in love with Biometrica. During this time the Chancellor Brajendranath Sil requested him to give a statistical analysis of the result of the Calcutta University. He was then only 24 years old. That was the first modern application of Statistics in India. After 3-4 years Director of Anthropological Survey gave him to analyze some data of Anglo-Indians living in Kolkata. He tried to figure out if the result was similar to that of the Hindus or Muslims. This study of one and half years gave birth to “Mahalanobis the-squad Statistic”.This gave him worldwide fame. He established a Statistical laboratory in Presidency College, and later in the boundary, a registered society named Indian Statistical Institute was established. In 1931 the institute came to the home where it is now. Professors like Rajchandra Basu got 5 rupees salary per month. There was a major crisis of money until 1953 when the central government announced this institute as an Institute of national importance. ISI was the first of ours kind to import computers in India for achieving better calculations. His maternal uncle was the famous doctor, Dr Nil Ratan Sarkar. They had a very hearty relation with Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore as well. Prasanta Chandra was honoured with Padmabhushan and a lot of acknowledgements from abroad.

He was a pioneer in encouraging interdisciplinary studies in the Statistical Institute and also starting the Archaeological Department in the same place. In the middle of 1961, scientists of ISI were digging near the riverbank of Godavari in Baranagar. They found a fossil of a Dinosaur that was only 160 million years old. Its legs were too long. It was the 100th Birth anniversary of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, so in his honour scientists named this fossil, Barapasaurus tagorei. People first go to see this fossil when they visit ISI.

Written by : Shubhankar Kundu

Author: Shubhankar Kundu

A fifth-year BS-MS student and a DST-INSPIRE fellow at IISER Bhopal, pursuing a major in Chemistry. Loves writing poems and painting during leisure times. Has a knack for music and loves playing the violin. Also, loves reciting Bengali poems and football. A die-hard fan of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the legendary Indian freedom fighter. Exploring unknown places and photography, are some other noteworthy hobbies. Associated with the core team of TQR since 2018.

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