Updated: October 15, 2019 3:22:07 am
“Today he is not only my son but the son of the entire country,” Nirmala Banerjee said on Monday, hours after the Nobel committee announced the 2019 prize in Economic Sciences for her son Abhijit, along with wife Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer.
“I was reading a book in the afternoon when I got the news from my younger son…. He is likely to visit India this month for his book launch, and is scheduled to come to Kolkata for a day. We cannot wait to meet him and share his happiness,” Nirmala, who was a professor of Economics at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, told The Indian Express at her residence in South Kolkata’s Ballygunge area.
Banerjee is the third Bengali after Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen to win the Nobel, and the second after Sen to receive the recognition in Economic Sciences. Like Sen, Banerjee, too, is an alumnus of Presidency College, now Presidency University.
Talking about Banerjee’s research work, Nirmala said, “It is based on how the poor manage their lives. He writes in a simple language that is easy for everyone to understand. Economics is about people, relating to their actions. It is about society. It is not about the physical world. There may be relations between the two, but essentially it is about human beings.” She added, “We meet three or four times every year, and we often talk about his work.”
Banerjee’s father Dipak Banerjee was a professor and head of the Economics Department at the then Presidency College. After his death in 2007, Presidency University organises Dipak Kumar Memorial Lecture in his honour. In 2018, Duflo had delivered the 10th lecture in the series.
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Dipali Senguta, his teacher at Kolkata’s South Point School, recalled Banerjee as an introvert but an excellent student. “It’s difficult imagining the kind of recognition he has received today. He has impressed us beyond words,” Sengupta, who taught at South Point from 1969 to 2014, said. “I taught him in classes VI and VIII. He had poor handwriting, for which his mother was called in, but he was an excellent student who always respected teachers.”
Abhijit Pathak, a classmate at Presidency, said Banerjee wore long kurtas with trousers in his college days, which was then different from the attire of other classmates. “He loves western music —in fact, I learnt about Bob Dylan from him. He is also a good cook,” he reminisced.
Besides Economics, Pathak said, Banerjee was very good in Mathematics, English and History as well. “He stood first in both Economics and Mathematics entrance tests in Presidency but chose Economics as his Honours subject,” he said.
Sharmila De Sarkar, Banerjee’s classmate at South Point, said, “If he comes to the school, I may not be able to hold back tears…there are so many memories. I cannot express how happy we are.”
Former Presidency principal Amal Mukhopadhyay, who was HoD of Political Science when Banerjee studied Economics at the college (1978-81), said this is the “best Durga Puja gift for Bengalis, and I am celebrating it.”
Mukhopadhyay said: “I am not only extremely proud that he was a student of Presidency but also of the fact that his father, Dipak Banerjee, was my colleague and HoD of Economics when I was HoD of Political Science. Although he was not my student directly, I had the opportunity to speak with him on several occasions. He was a bright student.”
Economist Kaushik Basu, chief economist of the World Bank from 2012 to 2016, said Banerjee and Duflo were PhD advisers of his son. “They deserve the recognition. The impact of his (Banerjee’s) work is large. It is a very creative and powerful work. This is very good news,” Basu said.
Calling it a “moment of great pride”, Presidency University’s Registrar, Debojyoti Konar, said they will soon felicitate Banerjee. “He has always offered us valuable suggestions about the Economics department. He was part of the mentor group. Whenever he visits Kolkata, he visits the Presidency campus,” he said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “Hearty congratulations to Abhijit Banerjee, alumnus of South Point School & Presidency College Kolkata, for winning the Nobel Prize in Economics. Another Bengali has done the nation proud…”
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