A fascinating record | Shehr

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied

The book’s contents include acknowledgements and foreword, followed by introduction and an account of the Government College (University) noted during the times of its principals Nazir Ahmad, Muhammad Rashid, Ashfaq Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Ajmal, Siddique Kalim, Fiza ur Rahman, Abdul Majid Awan and Khalid Aftab — from 1964 to 2002 — after which the college was upgraded to a university.

The personality of the founding principal Dr GW Leitner and his efforts are discussed at length and his being multi-lingual with experience as professor of Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence at various leading institutions is also brought up.

The reader is delighted to know that the college was founded inside the Walled City, in the haveli of Dhyan Singh, in 1864; and it was originally called Lahore College.

Dr Leitner was against rote-learning and wanted the students to freely write and express in their own styles. The college began with an enrolment of just nine students. Back then, it was affiliated with the University of Calcutta for examinations, something the founding principal simply loathed — he strived to make the college into an examining and degree awarding institute. Later, the campus was shifted to the house of Dr Khan Sahib, a civil surgeon and the principal of King Edward Medical College, on Dhani Ram Road, while the present campus was still being built. The mansion, built in 1877, was sadly demolished some years ago.

The Presbyterian Church at the present site, which existed already, was used as a teaching hall. Leitner was in office from 1864 to 1886 which makes him the longest serving principal of GC. Through his efforts, the University of the Punjab was established in a room in GC as an examining body in 1868. However, it was in 1882 that an independent varsity was founded across the road.

Black and white portraits of the various succeeding heads have been given in the book. Though, these aren’t very sharp images, the personalities appear remarkable. A rare portrait-picture of Shamsul Ulema Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad, the professor of Persian, exists and should have been included. Azad’s father was wrongly executed after the fall of Delhi in 1857. His ancestral house was confiscated and the elderly women were driven out. He had come to Lahore and joined the college in the founding year. Later, he got another teaching assignment at the then newly established Oriental College.

It seems that many professors taught several subjects simultaneously. A galaxy of these enlightened teachers set GC’s educational and scholarly foundations.

This history is not just about the various principals and teachers, the many concurrent trends in the literary circles have also been discussed with special reference to the greats such as Thomas Arnold, Allama Iqbal, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, NM Rashid, Imtiaz Ali Taj and Patras Bukhari. Not everyone has been discussed in detail, though, perhaps because this is not an encyclopedic work. Iqbal’s interaction with Arnold has been discussed but the latter’s book on painting in Islam should have been referenced.

The book discusses the various literary societies the college boasted. The college magazine, The Ravi, is something of a literary periodical with the motto: Courage to know. Its English and Urdu sections have served as a nursery for many a future journalist.

With the induction of natives into the Indian civil service, GC became the training ground for those aspiring for high government posts. It seems that the freshly recruited teachers were biding their time preparing for the examinations. As more science subjects were introduced, the writer points out that many professors wanted to keep the institute limited to art and literature.

The book documents several epoch-making events. Robertson, a professor of English and the principal from 1888 to 1891, was particular about the students’ propriety especially with regard to their dress code. He also stressed high moral behaviour.

Professor Bell started the era of development by promoting sports like football, tennis, and cricket and acquired the Presbyterian Church and converted it into a gymnasium (as mentioned in my previous dispatch). The Quadrangle, or the hostel, was completed and occupied in 1891. It was later named after Allama Iqbal after the latter’s demise. Similarly, Majlis-i-Urdu was renamed after the poet. It was inaugurated by MD Taseer.

Originally, there was no railing or fence around the college campus, so the milch cattle frequented in the oval ground. It was only on the orders of Robertson towards the end of the 19th Century that it was fenced and gated.

The famous crimson blazer was adopted during the time of Garrett (1927-36) who is said to be a suave and easygoing man.

GD Sondhi, says the author, created history by being the first old student of the college (1905-11) to become its principal. He was also the first native principal of GC serving in the tumultuous World War II years (1939-43). He had joined the college during the Great War in 1917 as professor of economics. He believed in quality, hence he reduced the enrolment from 1,300 to 1,050.

Sondhi was a handsome and exceptionally gifted man. He was very active in sports and encouraged many societies including the Dramatic Club to come up. He was also a horticulturalist; thus, the premises got a new look through different plantations.

Sondhi’s daughter, Urmila, became the first woman editor of The Ravi. Later, she married Prof Sirajuddin. Their daughter, Mrs Sonnu Rahman, is also an illustrious teacher. In a photo, you can see her standing next to a fountain and a benign lion head named after her father.

Sondhi’s granddaughter, Shaista Sirajuddin, is an outstanding teacher of English Literature.

Ahmad Shah Bukhari was a student at GC from 1919 to 1925. He was also the editor of The Ravi and known for his humorous writings. He rose to become the principal of the college in 1947 and remained there till 1950.

The long list of the heads of various departments is a historical record. Perhaps, the names’ index spread over 80-odd pages is in itself worth keeping.

The writer regrets that the name of his dear colleague and friend, Prof RA Khan, was inadvertently omitted. However, the long list includes many names which I too was friends with — such as Sarmad Sehbai, Aftab Gul, Naseer Malki, Saadatullah Khan, Haroon Kiani, Najam Sethi and Athar Tahir. The names of Masud Ajmal and Salman Ali Shareef are, however, missing.

The book also documents the college meetings at the Fine Arts Department, and the unceremonious exit of Prof Rasheed. As the last finishing touch, there’s a mention of the long struggle to start Bengali language classes at the college. The classes were eventually started by a Bengali student named Mubarak Ali Molla in March 1966.

The book is a must-read, even for those not affiliated with the college.

Next Sunday: Lahore, a sentimental journey by Pran Nevil, a Ravian

(This dispatch is dedicated to Prof RA Khan)

Note: Free art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday at the House of NANNAs. This Sunday, Nasira Habib will be the chief guest for a session on organic gardening.

A History of Government College (U), Lahore

From the Centenary to the Next Half Centenary (1964-2014)

Khalid Masud Siddiqui

Published by Al-Hamd publications

Pages: 438

Price: Rs 2,000

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]






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