KOLKATA: Professor Nirmala Banerjee, mother of Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, was speechless when she came to know that her son was among the three winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics on Monday.
"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. May be, he was sleeping," said Nirmala, also a professor of economics, sitting at her Kolkata residence.
Abhijit left Kolkata in 1983, she recounted.
"I have not met him in the past three years. But we are in touch. We discussed about India's tax policy. I have been told that my son has been doing good work in the field of analysing the poor in the past few years. In his research, he found that projects meant for the poor do not always help. He mentioned it several times in his speeches. He has a quality of explaining tough issues in simple language," she said.
Elaborating on how Banerjee developed an interest in helping the poor, Nirmala said, "There was a shanty in front of our apartment and he used to see the children living there. They used to play on the road in front of our apartment and he often used to interact with them. His interest in poor people's economics might have grown from this childhood experience."
Banerjee, the second Indian-origin Nobel laureate after Amartya Sen in economics, completed his schooling in South Point High School before joining the Presidency College where he completed his B.Sc in economics in 1981. Later, he completed his post-graduation in economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi before going on to obtain a PhD in economics at Harvard University in 1998.
His father was a possible influence.
"Abhijit used to go with my husband Dipak Banerjee, who was a professor and head of the department, economics, at Presidency College, to attend classes. He was young but he had an interest in the subject. After his Class XII exam, he initially decided to pursue physics honours but later changed his mind and preferred to study economics," said Nirmala.
In an interview over the phone to a regional news channel, Abhijit Banerjee said the news of winning the Nobel Prize was unexpected. "I expected my name would be considered after 10 years. Because, there are others who are senior to me and competent enough to bag the prize,’’ he said.
"I worked in South Africa, Indonesia, China and West Bengal in India to collect material for my research work. When I tried to understand the questions raised by the poor people, West Bengal came to my mind because I grew up there,’’ he remembered.
Economist Avijit Roychowdhury said he had seen Banerjee from close quarters at Presidency University.
"He was a brilliant boy. I was senior to him. But his seriousness in pursuing his goal caught the attention of many students like me. I am feeling proud today to be who knows him personally," he said.
Congratulating Banerjee, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in a tweet: "Hearty congratulations to Abhijit Banerjee, alumnus of South Point School and Presidency College Kolkata, for winning the Nobel Prize in Economics. Another Bengali has done the nation proud. We are overjoyed."
Banerjee was the member of the mentor group that was formed by Mamata for helping Presidency College regain its old glory.