The Amrapali building in the sprawling campus of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, houses
the Professor Mahalanobis Memorial Museum and Archives which not only preserves the papers and effects of Professor Mahalanobis and the documents related to the history of the Institute, but also stuns visitors with its unique architectural exuberance. This museum is part of the Central Library in Kolkata and is under the Library and Information Science Division of the Institute.
The museum brings to light the many-splendoured personality of Professor Mahalanobis and increases public awareness about the scientific achievements, literary activities and human values upheld by this behemoth.
Amrapali, the residence of Professor Mahalanobis and Nirmal Kumari Mahalanobis, is situated in serene settings at Baranagar. Named by Rabindranath after a Buddhist sanctuary, it was a garden house purchased by Professor Mahalanobis and remodelled in the style of the Udayana building at Santiniketan. The building was donated to the Brahmo Samaj by Professor Mahalanobis . During his birth centenary, the Institute purchased the building from the Brahmo Samaj and set up the museum and archives in his memory.
The museum delineates the landmarks in the development of statistics in the sub-continent for over more than fifty years. It preserves the intellectual record of a scientist and organiser whose original thinking and pioneering efforts set a path for national development through the application of statistical science in different fields.
There are five galleries on the ground floor with a display of 752 exhibits through 91 panels. You are humbled as you discover that there was not a single eminent world figure during the Cold War Era who had not been in contact with Professor Mahalanobis, from Sir Albert Einstein, Che Guevera, Madam Curie, Niels Bohr to Ho-chi-Minh.
This gallery introduces the Mahalanobis family background and the ambience in which young Prasanta was brought up. Professor Mahalanobis’s grandfather, Gurucharan Mahalanobis played a major role in establishing the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj which became a landmark of the social reform movement in 19th century Bengal. He supported Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in Widow Remarriage and himself married a widow.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was born on 29th June, 1893. His father, Prabodh Chandra Mahalanobis was the elder son of Gurucharan Mahalanobis and mother, Smt. Nirod Basini Devi – the sister of Dr. Nilratan Sarkar. Even so was a great mind shaped by intellectual giants from early childhood.
Gallery II houses a photographic presentation of Professor Mahalanobis’s pioneering research on statistical applications in the areas of rainfall and flood control, intelligence quotient, anthropometric study, survey of the Bengal famine, agricultural field trials and the breakthrough in sample survey system. Also explained is the Professor’s role in introducing the statistical quality control movement in India, the drafting of the Second Five Year Plan (which was his conception), and the making of the first electronic computer in the country.
Professor Mahalanobis’s pivotal role in the establishment of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) as a premier research and training institute in theory and application of statistics, upto its recognition as an Institution of National Importance by an Act of Parliament, as well as the Professor’s recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, are other prominent achievements of Professor Mahalanobis highlighted in this gallery.
This gallery highlights the camaraderie that Professor Mahalanobis shared with Sukumar Roy and Abanindranath Tagore and also the influence that the prolific leaders of the Brahmo Samaj had on him. A book signed by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and two extraordinary wedding gifts – a watercolour by Aban Thakur and a poem written by Rabindranath – are on display.
This gallery projects the all-embracing influence of Rabindranath’s philosophy that got absorbed into the ISI. The poet’s keen interest in statistics is not well-known to everyone. Professor Mahalonobis’s contribution towards the publication, preservation and promotion of Tagore’s literary works in various forms was a mammoth undertaking. Their friendship spanned more than three decades.
The Professor built two rooms for Tagore in his house, designed such that Tagore should be able to see nature from any corner. Tagore passed away before their completion. They have since been converted into galleries dedicated to him.
A book signed by Sir Albert Einstein and manuscripts of Professor Mahalanobis’s work on Tagore are among the fascinating displays in Gallery IV.
This gallery establishes how the Professor worked with missionary zeal for the advancement and application of statistics as a ‘key technology’. He travelled the world over like a scientific ambassador of India to establish exchange with scientifically-developed countries, much beyond the fields of statistics or economics. As a result, visitors to the ISI ranged from Nobel Laureates to Fellows of the Royal Society.
The hallway on the first floor greets you with a huge pencil sketch made by Nandalal Bose called ‘Pratyagata’ with a poem written in pencil by Tagore. Unfortunately, the pencil marks are fading and the Institute is trying its best to restore this fantastic piece of art. There is also exquisite Burmese Teak furniture and eye-catching black-stone carvings of the 9th and 11th centuries.
Chatal – the Open Lounge
A living room that breathes comfort and style is the Chatal. The brightly lit, airy lounge is astounding with its tastefully carved sofa-sets and the huge 12-seater table at which Professor Mahalanobis sat with Pandit Nehru to discuss the Second Five-Year Plan.
The Residence – Study Rooms and Guest Rooms
The residential quarters of Professor and Mrs. Mahalanobis are part of the museum for their historical value. The study and the guest rooms are comparatively smaller and give an authentic impression of the period.
The Kitchen and the Dining Room
The Amrapali kitchen with its modular furniture, an old refrigerator, a four-burner oven-toaster-grill, an electric kettle and an open window overlooking the dining room, are bound to leave you awestruck. The sleek dining table with just two chairs for the couple and a modular one for their grandniece is ahead of its times, as is so much else in Amrapali.
It is unusual but imperative to get into the details of the bathrooms of Amrapali. There are 45 rooms and 18 attached bathrooms, with an ultramodern look and feel. Professor Mahalanobis was phenomenal in his ideas on space management, followed in the treatment of every room and selection of furniture and fittings. For example, the space beneath the staircase was converted into a bathroom with modern fixtures.
The bathroom of Rani Mahalanobis with its ultramodern bath area, dresser and wardrobe, the Professor’s supremely-organised wardrobe with separate chambers for even handkerchiefs, and his elaborate shoe rack are all eye-openers.
Such was Professor P. C. Mahalanobis that the beauty in his lifestyle evokes admiration for his personality and philosophy of life.
‘We have received funds and employed the CPW to carry out restoration, but it is not enough, since the annual maintenance cost is huge. We require more funds especially for digitising two and a half lakh documents, the wealth of the Institution,’ says a concerned Dr. Satpathy, Chief Librarian, ISI.
Days Closed: Saturday, Sunday and all Government holidays
Timing: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Entry Fee: Free; Guide available with prior appointment
Parking: Institute parking