Obituary: Professor P. N. Mathur

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The Independent Online
Purushottam Narayan Mathur, economist and writer: born Mainpuri, near Agra, India 5 July 1925; Senior Research Associate, Harvard University 1959-61; Professor, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Poona 1961-70, Director 1968-70; Professor of Economics, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth 1970-84; married 1951 Sushila Rani Mathur (two sons, two daughters); died Carmarthen 21 March 1993.

P. N. MATHUR brought his creative and wide-ranging talents from India to Aberystwyth when he took up a chair in Economics in 1970.

Born in a small village near Agra in 1925, Purushottam Narayan Mathur took an MA in Economics at Agra University in 1948, followed by a Diploma in Statistics at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, where Pandit Nehru presented him with the Randhawa Gold Medal for outstanding performance. His studies had earlier been disrupted by his support for the independence movement, and he served a spell in jail for participation in a political demonstration. Curiously, it may have been at this time that he developed an affection for Britain, for he often remarked later that Gandhi's tactics might not have been so effective with other colonialist powers.

In economics he was exceptional in straddling the spectrum with high- quality contributions ranging from high mathematical theory to agricultural economics. But he will be particularly remembered for his work in two main areas: input-output analysis of economic activity, and development economics. On the former, for example, he initiated, edited and contributed substantially to a four-volume work, Economic Analysis in Input- Output Framework, which appeared between 1968 and 1976. On the latter, his most recent work was a book, published in 1991, on Why Developing Countries Fail to Develop, characteristically challenging the present neo-classical orthodoxy in economic thought. At the time of his death he was actively engaged in preparing a volume on vintages of capital whilst simultaneously writing a history of Indian astronomy.

At Aberystwyth his main contribution was to initiate and run a productive research school, mostly for postgraduate students from overseas. The weekly seminars gave a rigorous training to a stream of students attracted to work under Professor Mathur, who sent them back well-equipped to serve their own countries. The encouragement and assistance to such students continued beyond his 'so-called' retirement in 1984 and many still made the intellectual pilgrimage to his home - where, while 'PN' fed their minds, his wife, Sushila, filled their stomachs.

But if his life was one of scholarship, it was also one of service. Especially to India. Apart from his involvement in the independence movement of 1942, he was a founder member of the Indian Research Association for Input-Output Studies; and for Income and Wealth. He was active in various research projects of significance for Indian economy and society before coming to Aberystwyth. Nor did he confine himself to mingling with the great and the good. For over 30 years he associated himself with village development and literacy campaigns and interested himself in hand-looms as well as blast furnaces. He frequently returned to India to work and to serve.

Despite his charming diffidence and modesty his work received widespread international recognition. Wassily Leontief, a recent Nobel prize-winner in Economics, wrote immediately on hearing of his death: 'With the death of Professor PN Mathur, the economics profession lost an original, truly creative scholar.'

In his very first book, a Harvard Ph D thesis, Mathur identified the choice of appropriate technologies as the central problem confronting the less developed countries. Not being satisfied with abstract, purely theoretical analysis, he carried out the ambitious task of actually computing which of the Indian industries could profit and which could not profit through the adoption of advanced Western technologies.

His last contribution consisted in a penetrating analysis of the specific difficulties confronting less developed countries.

A modest man, P. N. Mathur did not compete for professional attention but centred his writing and teaching on the basic issues of economic growth and distributive justice.