Abhijit Banerjee: A backbencher who topped the class
Interacting with the poor as a child left a mark on Abhijit, recalls mother
KOLKATA/NEW DELHI: Nirmala Banerjee, mother of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, was rendered speechless when she heard the news of her son’s achievement. “It was around 2.30 pm, I was reading a book. My younger son called me and gave me the news. It was unexpected. I am feeling exactly what a mother of a Nobel laureate should feel. I tried to call him, but his cellphone kept ringing. Maybe, he was sleeping,’’ said Nirmala, also a professor of economics, at her Ballygunge residence in Kolkata.
Nirmala recounted that Banerjee left Kolkata in 1983. “I have not met him since past three years, but we are in touch. We discussed about India’s tax policy. In his research, he found the projects meant for the poor do not help always. He mentioned it several times in his speech. He has a quality of explaining tough issues in simple language,’’ she said.
Elaborating on how Banerjee had developed an interest in the field of development for the underprivileged, Nirmala said, “There was a shanty near our apartment. The children living there used to play on the road and he often used to interact with them. His interest to deal with poor people’s economics might have grown from his childhood experience.”Economist Avijit Roychowdhury said he had seen Banerjee closely at Presidency University. “He was a brilliant boy. Though I was senior to him, his seriousness in pursuing his goal caught the attention of many students,’’ he said.
Abhijit would sit on the last bench in the classroom during his Master’s course at Jawaharlal Nehru University but asked plenty of questions and at times, got into arguments with his teachers, recollects Shankar Raghuraman, who describes his former classmate as an “achiever” who “wasn’t content to just meander along”. “Academically, he was quite clearly the topper of the batch and one of the best Economics students from JNU,” said Raghuraman.
JNU professor Surajit Mazumdar said that the university’s history of a strong academic tradition existed “whether this award came to someone who has been a student here or not”.Professor Ajay Gudavarthy added, “In this current context with the kind of propaganda that is going on, this matters a lot to JNU.”In an interview to a regional news channel, Banerjee said, “There is n o magic button which can solve poverty overnight. We will have to find the reasons and solve it one by one by doing research works,” he added.
Banerjee, the second Nobel laureate in economics after Amartya Sen, completed his school education from South Point School before he took admission to Presidency College where he completed his BSc in economics in 1981. Later, he completed his post-graduation in economics from JNU before he went on to obtain a PhD at Harvard in 1998.