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      In Praise of Great Teachers             

Omkar Goswami


On 4 February, Professor Aniruddh Lal (A.L.) Nagar passed away in Pune. Nagar Sahab, as he was called by students and colleagues alike, was one of India’s finest academic econometricians and a legendary expositor of statistics and econometrics at the Delhi School of Economics (D.School) where he taught for decades. As long as I can remember as an M.A. student and later as a faculty member of the D.School, the first lecture of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were Nagar Sahab’s for teaching statistics to first year students; and an additional three lectures a week were for those who specialised in ‘six-trics’, the D.School short form for the final year M.A. option involving six papers in statistics and econometrics.

Nagar Sahab was such a superb teacher that very few students could ever think of bunking his lectures. A standard, and often heard, reason for ending an evening of bridge or post-dinner adda at the university post-graduate hostels such as Gwyer and Jubilee Halls was “Tomorrow is Nagar Sahab’s lecture” which meant that you wanted to get up early and clear headed enough to get to D.School well in time to attend the 9.20 am class. Nagar Sahab’s lectures were too brilliant to give it a miss and, in many ways, it was great to start a day with someone giving such a clear-headed exposition of the subject. I could bore you with a bibliography some of the seminal work that Nagar Sahab did in theoretical econometrics, especially in the area of regressions and simultaneous equation models, but I shan’t. This is about remembering great teachers. Nagar Sahab was an internationally acknowledged econometrician; but above all, he was a truly great teacher, one of the giants of D.School. When I joined the faculty, he also taught me, as he did Ashok Lahiri before me, how to enjoy a post-lunch paan with 120-number zarda — a habit that Ashok and I have now forsaken.

Then there was Professor K.L. Krishna. Universally called KLK or KL was another truly great teacher, whose lectures in applied econometrics and industrial economics were truly outstanding. Like Nagar Sahab, KLK would walk in without a scrap of paper, teach fundamentally profound stuff, fill the blackboard with a series of equations and complete precisely what he had planned for the lecture a minute or two before the end of class — doing so day in and out. From both these D.School stalwarts I learnt the lesson of how to plan a lecture and, most importantly, how to use a large blackboard so that, at the end of a class, you could take away the key elements of an hour long discourse just by looking at what was left on the board. KLK was also a master of understanding, using and interpreting large data sets. Several times in my professional life, I approached him with queries on data produced in various rounds of the National Sample Surveys. KLK always provided exactly the correct answer.

Then there was Professor Mrinal Datta Chaudhuri, or MDC, a larger than life hero of D.School, the object of gushing admiration of almost all women students, who taught the theory of growth, planning and transport economics. Far from being a conventional lecturer, MDC showed you how to think of the fundamental ideas behind a subject and, in that way, opened up economics in ways that you could not dream of as an M.A. student.

And then there was the triad of economic historians: Om Prakash (OP), J. Krishnamurthy (Kicchu) and Dharma Kumar. OP took you through Mughal India and the Portuguese and Dutch East India companies like none other; Kicchu explained various aspects of colonial economic history, labour markets and employment; and Dharma, alas no more, made you think differently and creatively about economic history without really bothering to ‘teach’ in the officially understood sense of the word.

These were great teachers. They taught me and many generations how to think. To learn. And to love economic theory, econometrics and economic history. This is my tiny tribute to them.

Published: Business World, March 2014


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