Introduction to An Annotated Chronological History of Indian Statistical Institute ( ISI )
Nineteenth Century Bengal is proud of a galaxy of dreamers who left their indelible mark in numerous ways on various aspects of the society. The Bengal Renaissance brought about immense change in the fields of art, science, culture and social reformation in late 18 th century. Raja Rammohun Roy was one of the luminaries who rode this wave into Bengal. Although this era came to an end with Rabindra Nath Tagore in early 20th century, it left it's lasting impression on the society. The effect of this renaissance continued for the next few decades with personalities like Jagadish Chandra Bose, Brajendra Nath Seal, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnad Saha, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and others working as a cluster of star visionaries to enrich the fields of science and arts in Bengal.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was one of these visionaries. Statistics, holding the hands of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, baby stepped its way into the field of research in science society of India. The study of Statistics had been side-stepped and uncovered till this point of time and Dr. Mahalanobis’ efforts opened up a world of study and research that had not been explored in India before. An extremely bright student and Tripos fellow of Cambridge University and later, a professor of Physics at Presidency College, Prasanta Chandra preferred to engross himself in the study of Statistics instead of pursuing Physics. Soon Statistics became his area of interest in research and study. His interest in Statistics that got initiated through the ‘Biometrika’ became intense with his close association with Sir Brajendra Nath Seal who engaged him with the statistical analysis of examination result of Calcutta University.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, later familiarly known as ‘Professor’ at ISI, became the Head of the Department of Physics at Presidency College, Calcutta. He set up the Statistical Laboratory within the folds of the Physics Laboratory at Presidency College, in the early 1920s for advanced studies and research in statistics with a small group of statistical workers gathered in an informal way. During this time, upon the initiative of Nelson Annandale, Director of Zoological Survey of India, Dr. Mahalanobis started a study on the application of statistical methods in Anthropometry, which later led him to the formulation of Generalised Distance or D-square Statistics. Sir Ronald A Fisher accepted this approach of Prof Mahalanobis by giving it the name ‘Mahalanobis D-square’ or ‘Mahalanobis distance’. Soon thereafter, Mahalanobis and Fisher formed a close personal relationship. R A Fisher brought him the stature of a statistician before the entire world. During his days in the Alipore Meteorological Observatory, Mahalanobis began to study the statistical aspects of Meteorology. In 1925, he presided over the Anthropological Section of the Indian Science Congress. Later in 1950, in the same platform of Indian Science Congress, he gave his presidential address entitled ‘Why Statistics?’
To build up the statistical research in India, P C Mahalanobis started ‘Sankhya: the Indian Journal of Statistics’. Later on, for sampling and quicker enumeration of statistical analysis, he initiated the National Sample Survey. The sense of urgency in computation with regard to analysis of data helped bring about the innovation of the first Analogue Computer in 1953. Soon thereafter, India’s first computer was installed in ISI in 1956. The installation of this computer, HEC-2M, in ISI was possible only due to the initiative of P C Mahalanobis. Soon, the Government of India gave recognition to these various activities that put India on the world map of Statistics when ISI was declared as an Institution of National Importance in 1959.
There are many official and non-official documents which describe the numerous activities of ISI and P C Mahalanobis from various angles. The present study has narrated the history of ISI in a chronological order maintaining a time line that progresses with the progress of Statistics in India. This study is a description of events that ISI experienced through the years since its inception. The events have been narrated in brief along with the dates of important events and photos wherever available. This study will help one to relate the origin as well as the outcome of a particular event and to understand the growth of this institution from its initial days to the present day. ISI took off from Presidency College in 1931, but was soon shifted to its new venue at Baranagar during 1940s. Later, like a banyan tree, it expanded its study, research and work in different parts of India like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Giridih, Tezpur, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Pune and R C Bose, Kolkata.
Over the years, ISI stands as a proud institution that has attracted various outstanding personalities of all fields. On one side, it has attracted outstanding stalwarts like D N Mitra, S P Mookerjee, C D Deshmukh, C V Raman, S N Bose, M N Saha as office administrators of ISI and on the other hand, it has received the honour of hosting excellent guides, researchers and teachers like R C Bose, C R Rao, K R Parthasarathi, V S Varadarajan, S R S Varadhan, J K Ghosh and many others. It has also attracted distinguished foreign scholars like R A Fisher, Norbert Weiner, Oskar Lange, Ragnar Frisch, Harold Hotelling, A N Kolmogorove, Y V Linnik, Pamela Robinson amongst others across various countries of the world. Eminent statesmen like Chou En Lai, the Premier of China, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Che Guevara of Cuba, A N Kosygin, Vice Premier of Soviet Russia and others have also visited ISI on various occasions and for various purposes.
The present narrative draws inspiration from the official records like ISI Council Proceedings, ISI Annual Reports, Review Committee Reports, PCM Memorial Archives and other related documents while describing the events. At the time of consultation from other sources of information like books, journal articles and other documents which are not official resources, utmost care has been taken to verify the collected information on events and correlate the same with the records available in the official documents. Ex-ISI professors, alumnus and persons engaged with ISI at various points of time have been interviewed for verification of certain events of ISI. All photographs have been collected from the ‘Digital Photo Archive’ developed by the Reprography & Photography Unit, Library, ISI.
The important events like the early statistical research in India from the time of the inception of ISI till 1972, ISI’s various publications, degree courses and other professional courses, the progress of computer development in the Institute, academic convocations, financial grants, the start of a new center, division or unit, special awards or honors, visits of eminent scientists or statesmen, land and construction, general administration, social services etc. have been provided for easy access of information on the study. Besides the narration of a chronological history of ISI, short notes on special events, scientists/statesmen, publication and others have also been added. The names of the events and the persons have been described in the same terminology/spelling as have been described in the official documents provided. A searchable Index of names and terminologies has also been added. Photographs of important events added for each year through this chronological study have further helped enliven the bright history of this Institute.