Obituary – Tapas Majumdar (1929 — 2010)

Tapas Majumdar

It is hard to recount memories surrounding Tapas Majumdar, who died on October 15, without recalling the reasonably large, but not bedizened, first-floor living room of his Dover Lane residence in Calcutta. This room will remain etched in the minds of his students and colleagues from the days when he taught in the Economics Department of Presidency College, not because of its simple decor, but for the purpose to which Tapas Majumdar put it during the turmoil-ridden year, 1967. The siege laid to the college had forced the authorities to suspend classes. The economics honours classes, however, did not come to a halt, for Tapas Majumdar, who was departmental head, had converted his living room into a makeshift classroom where teachers were assigned class hours on a regular basis. A timetable had been drawn up, and even tutorial classes were not ignored.

Tutorial homes had not yet invaded us, and teachers like Tapas Majumdar treated education as a public good that was not for sale. It was no wonder, therefore, that his colleagues and he dreamt of converting the Economics Department into an institution of excellence. The result was the founding of the UGC-sponsored Centre for Economic Studies, located inside the departmental premises and dedicated to advanced research. The Centre exists even today.

Tapas Majumdar was the son of the archaeologist, Nani Gopal Majumdar, who was closely associated with Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay and has been credited with discoveries related to the Early Indus period. He was mistaken as a policeman and shot dead by robbers near the foothills of Kirthar of the Sind region of Punjab on November 11, 1938. His wife heard the news by coincidence over the radio and Tapas Majumdar, born January 6, 1929, had to bear with this tragedy at a very tender age. His performance at school (Mitra Institution) and college (Presidency College) was nonetheless exemplary. He joined Presidency College as an assistant professor of economics at 21 and had none other than Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakravarty as students in the early part of his career. He completed his PhD at the London School of Economics under Lionel Robbins. His dissertation was published as a well-known book, The Measurement of Utility, and he continued to work and publish in the theoretically sophisticated area of demand and choice theory.

After completing his PhD in 1957, he joined Presidency College as a professor and taught there till he moved to the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi as professor of economics and head of the Zakir Husain Centre for Education Studies. He contributed extensively to the area of education since then and served as a member of distinguished organizations such as the UGC, NCERT, ICSSR and the Justice Punnayya Committee on UGC Funding of Institutions of Higher Education. After retirement from JNU, he remained associated with the university as emeritus professor at the Zakir Husain Centre.

Throughout his life, he encouraged students to carry out empirical research as well as research on the abstract foundations of a subject, and would have understood the word ‘elite’ to mean ‘excellent minds’ rather than ‘enemies of society’ as is often the practice now. One vividly recalls his effort in reading the monograph, Theory of Value, by Gérard Debreu (who won the Nobel prize in economics in 1983) soon after it was published in the late 1950s. The book has remained a mathematically daunting piece of writing. It is a fair guess that few teachers in postgraduate institutions in India, leave alone undergraduate colleges, would be attracted to this work. Tapas Majumdar was successful in assembling a group of young colleagues and students interested in the enterprise and used his living room to deliver special lectures on the subject. He ended up writing to Debreu about a point that his group was unable to resolve. Debreu replied by sending him a letter that contained little more than a small hand-drawn diagram that settled the issue completely. Tapas Majumdar was delighted to hear back from Debreu and often spoke humourously about the might of supreme brevity.

Tapas Majumdar will reside in the hearts of his students and colleagues as a pleasant yet firm personality, always ready to extend a helping hand for the cause of education. It is unlikely that he ever confused quantity (examination scores) with quality (a genuine appetite for learning) in judging his students.

[Published in The Telegraph, Calcutta, October 19, 2010]

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Comments

  • writespace4iw  On October 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Dear OJ Da,

    So good to hear from you!

    The above mentioned article was a real delight. It felt so good to know about such an intellectual genius.

    Best,
    Shail

    • dipankardasgupta  On October 25, 2010 at 12:18 am

      Thank you good friend.

      True. These people are somewhat rare to come by. Not just today. But it has always been the case.

  • aziz.kingrani  On January 14, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Very informative. I need more information about Nani Gopal Majumdar who worked in Sindh to explore Indus civilisation.
    Aziz Kingrani, Sindh, Pakistan

    • dipankardasgupta  On January 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      Thank you Mr. Kingrani. I will see if I can find more information and let you know.

      Regards.

      Dipankar Dasgupta

  • Aziz Kingrani,Johi,Sindh  On January 19, 2011 at 3:54 am

    A known researcher Ishtiaq Ansari has mentioned a wrong year of birth, i.e 1868, of Nani Gopal Majumdar in his book Gorakh published in 2009. When I researched through net, it was correctly given as 1897. The year 1997 was celebrated as the birth century of Nani Gopal Majumdar. According to history, you are right that NaniGopal was assassinated by robbers on 11 november 1938 at the foothills, mistaken as a policeman. His works are mentioned as Explorations in Sindh, A list of Khraosthi Inscription, Inscription of Bengal, A Guide to the Scuptures in the Indian Museum. The life scetch of Nani Gopal Majumdar is unavailable. Would you like to provide it? Or his further work and performance? In Sindh our researchers like Ishtiaq Ansari have guesses about Nani Gopal Majumdar. I will be very grateful for informations. Thanks

  • Aziz Kingrani,Johi,Sindh  On January 19, 2011 at 4:05 am

    I have noted the birth year Of Nani Gopal Majumdar as 1897. Was he professor or appointed at some other post in the Education Department? What was his feild of qualification? Where he was born? Ishtiaq Asnsari surely mentions Majumdar’s village as his birth place. So plz help in this regard. Thanks.

    • dipankardasgupta  On January 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      Dear Mr. Kingrani:

      Mr. Nani Gopal Majumdar worked for the Archaeological Survey of India. He was not into teaching, but he was definitely a great researcher. I have asked people to provide me more information on him. The centenary volume that the Archaeological Survey of India had brought out in his honour should have details. I have contacted his grandson for the information you seek. I will send them to you as soon as possible.

      Thanks for your interest in this man.

      Dipankar Dasgupta

      • dipankardasgupta  On January 23, 2011 at 6:27 pm

        Dear Mr. Kingrani:

        You will be able to find more details about Mr. Naini Gopal Majumdar in Explorations in Art and Archaeology of South Asia: Essays Dedicated to Nani Gopal Majumdar, edited by Debala Mitra, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of West Bengal, 1996. It contains a detailed biographical profile and a list of his publications. I understand that he began his career as a lecturer at Calcutta University and left this job to join the Archaeological Survey of India.

        Best regards.

        Dipankar Dasgupta

  • Aziz Kingrani,Johi,Sindh  On January 30, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Dear Dipankar Dasgupta
    I am really thankful to you for your help regarding the celebrated archaeologit N.G Majumdar. I am now nearer to my goal of gaining knowledge about this great personaliy of history. You helped, responsed and cooprated with a great zeal. I am very sorry to say that mistakenly your mail has been deleted and along with the email address of Chattanpandhyay. Kindly be pleased to resend it as I will then be able to proceed further.I need of a photo of Nani Gopal Majumdar if it is possible or available. Thanks.
    Regards

    Prof:Aziz Kingrani
    Government College Johi,Dadu
    Sindh,Pakistan.

    • dipankardasgupta  On January 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Dear Prof. Kingrani:

      Here is the email address. r_chattopadhyay@rediffmail.com. Prof. Chattopadhyay should be able to provide you with authentic information, including possibly the photograph you need.

      Best wishes.

      Dipankar Dasgupta

  • Aziz Kingrani,Johi,Sindh  On January 30, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Dear Mr Dipankar Dasgupta

    Thanks for the support. I went through matters about you. You are also a distinct personality. My regards and good wishes will remain with you forever. Have you told Prof. Chattopadhyay about me for guidance, assistance or help? Would I be helped in such manners as your kind nature has helped me? However I am thankful to you.

    High Regards

    Aziz Kingrani

    • dipankardasgupta  On January 30, 2011 at 11:50 pm

      Dear Mr. Kingrani:

      Of course Prof. Chattopadhyay has been informed and he has said that he will give you as much support as you need. I do not know him personally. I got in touch with him with the help of another archaeologist, Prof. Mandira Bhattacharyya. Prof. Rupesh Chattopadhyay knows that you will be aproaching him. So, feel free to go ahead.

      Best wishes.

      Dipankar Dasgupta

  • Aziz Kingrani,Johi,Sindh  On January 31, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Dear Mr Dipankar Dasgupta:

    I have sent a message to Prof Rupesh Chattopandhyay. Thanks.

    Regards.

    Aziz Kingrani

  • Noe  On April 10, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Howdy! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thank you

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