Abhijit Banerjee, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year with his French-American wife Esther Duflo and American Michael Kremer, is a native Kolkatan who was born and raised in the City of Joy. The trio won the Nobel for their “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. With the award, Banerjee and Duflo become the sixth husband-wife couple to win the Nobel, the first being physicist-chemist Marie and Pierre Curie in 1903.
The son of two economics professors, Nirmala Banerjee and Dipak Banerjee, he studied at the city’s premier South Point School and then attended Presidency College (now university). Kolkata, in fact, has a deep connection with the Nobel Prize, with at least five winners of the Nobel Prize having links — by birth or work — with the West Bengal capital.
Five of six Indian Nobel laureates have Calcutta Chromosome. And Kolkata still preserves the structures associated with their life and work.
1. Rabindranath Tagore: In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European, non-White to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tagore, who was largely home-schooled and despised formal education, reshaped Bengali and, by extension, Indian literature. He belonged to one of the most aristocratic families of what was then Calcutta, known as “Thakur Bari”.
According to the Swedish Academy, which gives out the literature Nobel, Tagore got the award for Geetanjali, his landmark collection of poems that is full of “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.
2. C.V. Raman: In 1930, Chandrashekhara Venkata Raman, who won the award for physics, became the first person from Asia to win a science, Nobel. Raman completed his higher studies at Presidency College in erstwhile Madras and, in 1917, was appointed a physics professor at the University of Calcutta. Between 1907 and 1933, he was associated with research at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Calcutta’s Bowbazar area. It is during his stint here that he discovered the celebrated “Raman Effect”, for which he was awarded the Nobel. Raman also founded a ‘Calcutta South Indian Club’ in southern Kolkata.
3. Mother Teresa: Mother Teresa, the Albanian-born Christian missionary known for her work among the poorest of the poor, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In 1950, she had founded the Missionaries of Charity (MoC), a Roman Catholic congregation that is active in several countries. Through this agency, she worked among the hopeless, hapless and helpless in and around the city. She drew her last breath in Kolkata on 5 September 1997. The MoC is still headquartered in the city.
4. Amartya Sen: Prof Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998 for his research on welfare economics. Sen, who was born in Santiniketan, Bolpur, was schooled at Dhaka in pre-Partition days. After Partition, he was brought back to Santiniketan. He went on to attend Presidency College, where he completed a BA in Economics. Despite the fact that he has worked mostly in the UK and the US since 1972, Sen keeps coming back to his roots in Kolkata and Santiniketan.
5. Ronald Ross: Ross, who won the Nobel for medicine in 1902 and was the first Briton to get this award, had discovered the malarial parasite and proved that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. Ross, a member of the British-era Indian Medical Service, arrived in Kolkata in 1898, where he continued his research on the disease.