The two were affectionate companions

To some it would be surprising that an institute of statistics was founded as a result of an intimate association of its founder P.C. Mahalanobis with poet Rabindranath Tagore, and two institutions — the Indian Statistical Institute and Visva-Bharati — shared the Nobel laureate's idea “of combining education and nationalism.”

Despite a 30-year difference between the two, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis “was one of Tagore's rare friends who did not place him simply on a high pedestal full of only aura and fame, but treated him as a lively intellectual and affectionate companion,” Uma Dasgupta, a former professor of the Indian Statistical Institute, said here on Tuesday.

Parallels

At a function organised on the birth anniversary of Mahalanobis, Dr. Dasgupta drew several parallels in the ideology that backed their institutions, especially their shared ideal of universal humanity.

“Just as Tagore sought to bring humanity closer through Visva-Bharati or his one-nest-world university at Santiniketan, Prasanta Chandra strove to use the ideal of humanism through statistics,” Dr. Dasgupta said. “Statistics for human welfare” was a stated goal in the Memorandum of Association of the institute.

While Tagore coined the Bengali word for statistics rashi vigyan or rashi vidya and wrote a poem in the inaugural issue of the journal of the Indian Statistical Institute, Mahalanobis served as the first joint secretary of Visva-Bharati for 10 years.

Even after he founded the Indian Statistical Institute in 1931, Mahalanobis continued to help informally in the running of Visva-Bharati, including in appointment of economic professors and more mundane matters such as installing a new engine for a tube-well and attending to problems of lighting, Dr. Dasgupta said.

Mahalanobis copiously read the writings of Tagore and wrote to him often. The renowned statistician was also a most meticulous chronicler of Tagore's life and put together a year-by-year calendar of Tagore's activities, she said.