Patna College: An eventful journey of 150 years

Patna: Author E M Forster described it in his landmark book "A Passage to India," and director Satyajit Ray shot his National-Award winning film "Seemabaddha" on the campus of Patna College, an institution, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Located on a picturesque setting, by the river Ganges, the Patna College established in the year 1863, completed its sesquicentennial on January 9 and celebrated the landmark event with much merriment and festivities in the company of its old boys and older legends.

n eventful journey encompassing a glorious and tumultuous legacy was commmemorated by the college with a marble plaque bearing its legendary sobriquet "Oxford of the East with no Cambridge to compete with."

"I'm not sure how the 'Oxford' legend began but Patna College has certainly lived up to it in all sense of the term. I feel proud and privileged to have been taught there by academic stalwarts and later had the honour of even teaching there," Imtiaz Ahmad, alumnus and current director of the internationally-acclaimed Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library, Patna told PTI.

"It was unsurpassable even till its centenary year but the last few decades marked by academic anarchy and irregularity and occasional cases of student clashes have somewhat marred its otherwise pristine image," says Ahmad, whose grandfather, father, and uncle were all renowned scholars at the college.

Shanker Dutt, who graduated with a BA (English) from it during the tumultuous years of the Emergency in 1975, however, is not too excited by the occasion.

"It is a momentous occasion but what heritage have we left for the posterity. Its iconic buildings just like its academic ambiance have lost their sheen. What is more ironic is that the campus is a declared heritage structure but in the name of development its heritage continues to suffer," says Dutt, who currently teaches in the Post-graduate department of English at the Patna University.

However, against the "falling facade" of a decaying icon Dutt's pride for his alma mater reamins intact.

"Despite all the pains and shortcomings, we still have produced Fulbright scholars, civil servants, writers, scholars, journalists, among others. I still have reasons to be proud of," says Dutt.

While the central main administrative block was built over an old 17th century Dutch opium godown, the East and West Wings were added later in the 19th century in British times.

The Language Block constructed further down is connected to the main building by a long shaded corridor called the
'Ewbank Corridor' named after one of its old principals.

Its architecture, a mix of ionic and doric columns has delighted students, faculty and passers-by for ages. Historian J N Sarkar and J C Jha had devoted a complete volume titled "A History of Patna College 1863-1963" to mark it centenary.

While a pavilion, now faded, named after another principal H R Batheja still stands on the banks of Ganga, the famed 'Wilson Rose Garden' christened after principal C R Wilson, along with its adjoining tennis courts has vanished long ago.

The 'Azim Garden' named so in the memory of Arabic, Persian and Urdu scholar and teacher Azimuddin Ahmad is hardly traceable today except for a broken fountain and a faded plaque bearing his name.

The institution's rich architectural legacy has also not fared well, including its two popular hostels, Jackson Hostel and Minto Hostel now lying dilapidated in want of restoration.

"I have seen the 'Wilson Rose Garden' and the tennis courts too. But, I'm now worried about the iconic Greek-styled murals and motifs inside its East Wing hall crying for immediate restoration before they get lost forever," says eminent historian and author Surendra Gopal.

Gopal, himself an alumnus, and old teacher, has in his book "Patna in the 19th Century" described Patna College with elan.

Late Sujit Mukherjee, renowned literary scholar and a first-class cricketer who also studied at the college and later taught there had lamented of the lost legacy in his essay 'The College by a River: Patna College' after having visited his alma mater a few years before his death in 2003.

"Perhaps, late on some not too far August or September night, when the water is high, the college will simply jump into the river. The Ganga will neither pause nor look back, it has seen too much already," Mukherjee said in the book which captures the decay of many other historic British-era colleges of India too.

The college has produced great barristers like Sachchidanand Sinha who became the first president of the Constituent Assembly, it also gave birth to the national poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. Legendary politicians like Shri Krishna Sinha, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, ex-Chief Justice, Supreme Court B P Sinha, and famed socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, among others, and countless doctors, engineers, administrators, artists, architects, etc in between.

Among its faculty included history stalwarts like R S Sharma, K K Datta, S H Askari, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, and Y J Taraporewala (History), M T Gulrajani (English), Gyanchand (Economics). European teachers V H Jackson, J L Hill, and principal J S Armour, among others are still remembered.

The origin of Patna College can be traced to the establishment of Patna High School in 1835 which later gave birth to Patna Branch School in 1854 and eventually the Collegiate School in 1862 out of which the college was born in 1863. J K Rogers was its first principal-in-charge while its first full-fledged principal was J W McCrindle renowned for his English translation of Megasthenes's 'Indica'.

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