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Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis – The Father of Modern Statistics in India

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“The Founder of the Indian Statistical Institute!”

 

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was a popular Indian Scientist and Statistician. He is most well-remembered for introducing the statistical measure, Mahalanobis distance. He was the Founder of the Indian Statistical Institute and was a member of the first Planning Commission of free India.

He is considered to be the father of modern statistics in India for his work in the field. Sadly, we lost him on 28 June 1972 at the age of 78. He was an absolutely dedicated man who was still working during his final days. That’s exactly how he will continue to be looked upon as such.

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis – The Father of Modern Statistics in India

Quick Facts about Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

    • Full Name: Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis
    • Also Known As: P.C. Mahalanobis, PCM
    • Famous As: Indian Scientist and Statistician
    • Born On: 29 June 1893
    • Died On: 28 June 1972
    • Birthplace: Kolkata, West Bengal, British India
    • Education:
      • King’s College, Cambridge
      • Bachelor in Science with honors in Physics from Presidency College, Kolkata
      • Brahmo Boys School in Calcutta
    • Parents: Prabodh Chandra Mahalanobis (Father), Nirodbashini Mahalanobis (Mother)
    • Profession: Scientist, Professor, and Statistician
    • Religion: Brahmo Religion
    • Spouse: Nirmal Kumari Mahalanobis (1923–1972)
    • Awards: Padma Vibhushan (1968), Weldon Memorial Prize (1944)

Early Life of the Great Statistician

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was born to a Brahmo Samaj family. His grandfather, Gurucharan, was a prominent person and was actively involved in the Brahmo Samaj movement. His grandfather married a window, which was a huge blow to the social traditions that existed.

His father worked as a dealer in sports goods. He was the eldest of 6 children, 2 sons and 4 daughters. When Mahalanobis was only 14, his mother died. He took his exams a few months later and passed with first division.

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Education and College Life

Coming to Prasanta’s education, he studied at the Brahmo Boys School in Calcutta, from where he graduated in 1908. After that, he joined the Presidency College in Calcutta, which was then affiliated with The University of Calcutta. He graduated in 1912 with a Bachelor in Science with honors in Physics.

But his studies in Cambridge has a back story. While he reached England, he missed his train leading to London due to some unfortunate events. He then had to stay at his friend; place at King’s College. After his friend suggested him to stay back, he agreed.

Marriage and Family Life

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis married Nirmal Kumari on 27 February 1923. Nirmal Kumari’s father, Heramba Chandra Maitra, was a popular educationalist and was a member of the Brahmo Samaj as well. However, it’s worth mentioning here that Heramba Chandra didn’t attend their marriage, as he wasn’t in favor of it. His wife supported to a great extent.

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The Career of the Founder of the Indian Statistical Institute

During Prasanta’s time at the University of Cambridge, he worked at the Cavendish Laboratory. He then took colleges at the Presidency College in Calcutta for some time after meeting with the principal of the college.

During his time at Cambridge, he got interested in the scientific journal Biometrika. The aforementioned journal made him realize its usefulness in meteorology and anthropology.

He, along with Pramatha Nath Banerji, Nikhil Ranjan Sen, and Sir R. N. Mukherji, founded the Indian Statistical Institute on 17 December 1931. All four of them were prominent professors of the Presidency College at the time.

The Institute was in the Physics Department of the Presidency College during the early days, but it grew over time. In 1933, the institute founded the quarterly journal, Sankhya, similar to Biometrika. The institute was declared in 1959 to be of national importance and a Deemed university as well.

Prasanta’s probably most well-known achievement is the introduction of the Mahalanobis distance. He had also created the instrument, profile scope, which helps in skull measurements. His other notable achievements include the introduction of the concept of pilot surveys. He was also a huge believer in the usefulness of sampling methods.

His work as a member of the Planning commission of India began with the second five-year plan. For the second five-year plan, he stressed the importance of industrialization based on a two-sector model.

The Mahalanobis model was used in the second five-year plan, which helped in its swift industrialization. During this time, he also encouraged a project whose main objective was to evaluate India’s deindustrialization and rectify previous census methodology errors.

He had also served as the Honorary Statistical Advisor to the Cabinet of the Government of India.

Achievements of the Genius Scientist

Here are some of the achievements of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:

    • He was the winner of the Padma Vibhushan in 1968.
    • He won the Srinivasa Ramanujan Gold Medal in 1968.
    • He was the winner of the Durgaprasad Khaitan Gold Medal in 1961.
    • He became the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) in 1942.

Here is a short video clip providing all necessary information about PCM’s life.

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Lesser-Known Facts about Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

Here are some of the lesser-known facts about Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:

    • He worked with the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, C.T.R. Wilson at Cambridge. Also, during this time, he met the popular Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan.
    • He greatly admired Rabindranath Tagore and had also served as his secretary. Interestingly, he also worked at the Rabindranath Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University.
    • While in college, S. Ramanujan and PCM went for an early morning long walks.
    • While he was in the presidency college, he also taught students with a modern teaching style. He did not believe in the theoretical approach.
    • Actor Shazad Latif portrayed him in the 2015 movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity, which was about the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan.
    • Google honored him with a Google Doodle on 29 June 2018, which was his 125th birthday.

Later Years, Death, and Legacy

Lesser-Known Facts about Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis spent his final days working as well. He was still doing research and fulfilling his obligations as the co-founder, secretary, and director of the Indian Statistical Institute. He was also fulfilling his duties as the Honorary Statistical Advisor to the Cabinet of the Government of India.

He died on 28th June 1972, just one day shy of his 79th birthday. His birthday, 29 June, is celebrated as National Statistical Day every year, beginning in 2006.

On his 125th birthday, which was 29 June 2018, the 13th Indian Vice-President, M. Venkaiah Naidu released a commemorative coin in his honor.

He was an amazingly committed person, and his work shows that. He spent his entire life working for the nation’s betterment, and he will continue to be looked upon as an icon.

 

*****

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Hetal Kabra
Hetal Kabra
Staying positive is what makes you feel good. When such positiveness can be enthralled via Writings, you can inspire many people. I believe in spreading happiness and positivity and this is why through this platform I am able to share my thoughts and views to the readers.

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