The Prophet of Statistics: Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

The Wednesday Webinar of 17th June was a special one indeed, as it celebrated one of the key architects of young India, the doyen of statistics—Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis. This talk was arranged in advance of the birth anniversary of this ‘Father of Indian Statistics’, 29th June, which is celebrated countrywide as National Statistics Day. We had the ideal speaker to discuss this eminent personality: none other than Prof. Nagaraj Neerchal, Vice Chancellor of Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, himself an alumnus of the Indian Statistical Institute.

The talk, titled ‘The Prophet of Statistics: Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis’, started with a series of entertaining interactive polls, serving to highlight Mahalanobis’ unique position even amongst the great luminaries of his time. The speaker listed his awards and honours, before moving on to a description of his personal life, his phenomenal amount of teaching, research and administrative activity and his journey towards becoming one of the Indian government’s principal and most influential advisors, including, but not limited to, his stellar work on the Indian Planning Commission. Apart from his work, P.C. Mahalanobis also maintained an avid interest in literature, which he pursued with the same zeal and energy as his professional activities.

The talk further highlighted Mahalanobis’ most significant and lasting contributions: his administrative acumen when working on the Indian Planning Commission, that made a difference to the day-to-day life of all Indians and continues to do so today, and his establishment of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), which serves to inculcate his credo of excellence into future generations as well. Various anecdotes from his time as Director of ISI were related and his numerous connections with contemporary and future greats were also described. Finally, the talk focused on describing his diverse yet lasting contributions to the research and study of measurement and statistics, including the ‘Mahalanobis Distance’, through the use of apt examples.

The session closed with a series of questions that demonstrated the audience’s curiosity to know more about ‘The Professor’, all of which were answered deftly by the speaker. It was truly an enlightening, informative and educational session, and succeeded in making the audience aware of the importance and beauty of statistics in general and P.C. Mahalanobis’s contributions, in particular.