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Malcolm Sathiyanathan Adiseshiah (April 18, 1910 – November 21, 1994),was an Indian development economist and educator. He was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Government of India for his outstanding services to the country in 1976. UNESCO has awarded ‘The Malcolm Adiseshiah International Literacy Prize’ every year from 1998 in recognition of the outstanding contribution he made to education and to literacy in particular.
He was born on April 18, 1910, the second of the five children of Paul Varanasi Adiseshiah and Grace Nesamma Adiseshiah. His father was professor of philosophy and the first Indian principal of Voorhees College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu State, India. His mother, a talented musician, had studied up to the Senior Cambridge (High School) and was the first woman Councilor of the Vellore Municipality.She taught all her children till they were ten years of age. All of them were highly accomplished, and four of her children obtained doctorates: William, the eldest, in philosophy at Cambridge; Malcolm in economics at the London School of Economics, Padmini in education and Noble in medicine.
Adiseshiah studied in Voorhees High School, where he obtained two double promotions. He completed his secondary school education at the age of thirteen to join Voorhees College for his ‘intermediate’ course (equivalent to +2 course now.) Then he shifted to Loyola College, Chennai for his BA (Honours), where Ramaswamy Venkataraman, the former President of India, was his classmate. After a six-year teaching interregnum at the St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College in Calcutta (now Kolkata), he proceeded to King’s College, Cambridge for his MA (Banking) and then to the London School of Economics (1937–40) for pursuing his doctoral research with specialization in currency. Late Dr. R. N. Poduval, who served in FAO and then was Chairman of Centre for Research in Economic and Social Development, Chennai was two years his junior in LSE.
In later life, after his retirement from UNESCO, Adiseshiah has fondly recalled his training and research;
He joined as a lecturer in St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College, an affiliate of the University of Calcutta in 1930 and continued till 1936. There he worked out plans for rural service programme in the college in cooperation with the Visva-Bharati University associates at Sriniketan and Santiniketan.
He married Helen Paranjothi.
After obtaining his doctorate, in 1940, he joined Madras Christian College, Chennai, when he was only thirty years of age, as its first professor and head of the department of economics. He remained there till 1946. Prof. K. N. Raj, founder of Centre for Developmental Studies, Tiruvananthapuram, and G. Jagathpathy, former Chief Secretary of the government of Madhya Pradesh were his students in the 1941-44 batch of BA Honours course. Raj has recalled about
Helen Paranjothi bore him a son and a daughter. In 1946 his marriage fell apart. Adiseshiah fell in love with Elizabeth Pothen, who was then professor of history at the Madras Women’s Christian College. The separation between Adiseshiah and Helen Paranjothi was bitter and prolonged. He turned a renegade. The annulment of the marriage came only in 1956. Meanwhile, Adiseshiah married Elizabeth Pothen.His publications in 1940s included books on banking, rural development and agricultural transformation. He was engaged, with his fellow economists in the Madras University, in work on planning the future industrialization of India and Madras State.