This post was written by mom, photographs taken by my brother and typed in by my sister in law. It’s about her walk down memory lane at Delhi to her old school and college. An interesting insight into education in the days just after independence well before air-conditioned classrooms and laptops. And for those who come here only for food, there are some Kakori kebabs sandwiched in between the memories … KK
It was a very bright and cold Saturday in Gurgaon. Sid asked me if I wanted to go out. I did not even hesitate once to say ‘Yes’.
We decided to visit my schools and colleges which we had left out in our last trip. What I found after the trip was that the little genie of Aladin’s lamp had played havoc with my schools and colleges in the last 47 years. In one place it had created a huge building out of nothing with its magic lamp. In another two places, it had blown away the whole buildings and shifted to some other place making its own additions and alterations.
Our first stop was to be my old school which I had left in 1963 about 5 decades ago. It set me thinking in the car how my school was different from other schools, as it was neither housed in a dilapidated building/ AC modern building nor held under trees in Shantiniketani style. The classes were held in ‘tamboos,’ or tents, the ones usually associated with the Bedouins.
You may very well wonder why it was so. A few years after independence, a motley group of Bengali ‘bhadraloks’ /gentlemen came to Delhi in search of luck. They were true Bengalis – both in spirit and culture. They wanted their children to be educated in Bengali with English as a subject.
They set up a primary school, named ‘Union Academy School,’ in a small rented house in Lodi Road. I was only four and a half years old when I got admitted in class I of this school. After sometime they wanted it to be a full-fledged school. And so the search for land began. Finally they selected a huge desert-like land in Lodi Estate near Khan Market. But there was no money to build a building, as most of these Bengalis were govt. employees and from East Pakistan.
It is said, ‘If there is a will there is a way.’ These undaunted Bengalis decided to set up a school temporarily in tents.
The name of the school was changed to ‘Shyama Prasad Vidyalaya,’ a Higher Secondary school under CBSE.
The tents were white in colour and triangular in shape like pyramids. They were covered on all sides. There was an ‘igloo,’ type of door in front of the tent. Inside there were almirahs, desks, chairs etc. Each tent was meant for a class.
From far they looked like snow-capped mountains or tents of some warrior kings. During winter, cold wind made us shiver and during summer, ‘loo’ /hot wind with sand made us cover our eyes as the Bedouins did. I still vividly remember the full-bloomed white ‘kash,’ flowers that grew around during autumn and the red colored insects named ‘ladybirds,’ which came out after rains.
Kamalini Mitra was the first headmistress of the school. She was very dedicated and put her soul in the progress of the school.
I spent 11 long years in this school (at that time the Higher Secondary examination was held after class XI) studying in the tents. I had heard later that they had finally managed to build a building with the donation of the students.
After some Google search, we finally located the school and the car screeched before it. Lo and behold! I could not believe my eyes. There was a huge blue colored building in front of us. A watchman in uniform was standing before the gate. Initially he did not allow us to go inside. Later he asked us to take permission from the Vice-Principal.
Shyama Prasad Vidyalaya in its new ‘avatar’
When I went inside, I realized that the genie of the lamp had created a huge building with sprawling gardens in the desert when I was a bit unmindful [only for about five decades]. There was a huge statue of Shyama Prasad inside a well-maintained garden. Just in front of the building was an idol of Saraswati, the Goddess of learning.
Idol of Goddess Saraswati in front of the building
Statue of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee
A sprawling garden now in place of the desert
When we met the Vice-Principal, she was overwhelmed as we had coming looking for the school after so many years. She showed us the whole school. She told us that each class had a CCTV. There were separate buildings for primary section, science laboratory, computers, library etc. She said that the school had 1200 students out of which 50% students were non-Bengalis.
The playground was huge and had sprinklers for spraying water on the ground. The Vice-Principal invited us for Saraswati puja in advance and said that she would make sure that the invitation card reached me in time.
A huge playground with sprinklers
Me & the Foundation Stone of the school
Present Vice Principal & me, an ex-student of the 1963 batch
It was already 2.30 pm. We headed for ‘Khan chacha’ at Khan Market. This time we did not want to miss the kakori kebab at any cost. We had some kebab rolls along with kakori kebab. The taste was superb and everything was prepared in front of us. Kebab rolls were wrapped in roomali rotis and then in cooking foils. Soy took some photos of the food in Kalyan style. I would give ‘Khan chacha’ 8 out of 10 as the loo was very clean too.
(KK: Khan Chacha was a hole in the wall stall when I went to Khan market in 07. I’d packed kebabs and got them to Mumbai for K)
Kebab Rolls and Kakori kebab at ‘Khan Chacha’
Sharp Kebab sheeks hanging from the ceiling of ‘Khan Chacha’ resembled the ‘sarasayya’ (bed of arrows) of Mahabharat’s Bhisma
It was dusk by the time we started for Mata Sundri College for Women [Delhi University] at Mata Sundri Lane. I had taught there for 4 years after passing my MA examination. It was opened by the Sikh Trust inside a Gurdwara complex. It was located in between India Gate and Connaught Place. It was housed in a ‘L’ shaped military barrack type building. Five of us joined the English Deptt. in that year. We had studied together in MA classes too. We took active part in the functions of the Gurdwara and participated in ‘langar.’ I was the lone ‘Bong,’ in the whole college but they never discriminated me. We were great friends. Quite often we would go to C.P. to do ‘window shopping’ wearing costly saris so that the shopkeepers would not throw us out.
Years later when I was teaching in a college of Calcutta University, a saying often went round the teachers’ staffroom, ‘A colleague can never be your friend.’ Well, it maybe! At least in Mata Sundri College we were friends. After all each city has its own culture and values.
The car stopped before the college where it once was. But where was the college? It had vanished overnight. There was only a huge Gurdwara standing in front of us. I realized that it was the mischief of the genie again. At last we found it out quite a while away. Inside the gate was a huge 5-star hotel type of building.
Board of the Gurdwara in front of us
Gate of Mata Sundri College
Standing in front of the college gate
A lone Sikh gentleman, wearing a blue turban, was standing in front of the gate as if to welcome us. He seemed a junior version of Sunder Singh, the head clerk of the college at that time and heart-throb of many a student. I spontaneously went to him and asked him if Sunder Singh was inside. He said that Sunder Singh had passed away and he had come in his place.
We were not allowed to go inside the building as the college had closed for the day. So Sid took a few quick snaps of the college building and the auditorium going a little bit inside the gate.
A quick snap of the college building taken by Sid
Picture of the college bus
Board of the college
Our next stop was Delhi College (Delhi University), where I had spent five years of my life. Three years for Honours and two years for MA. It was a post graduate college even at that time. Five days a week we used to go to the Arts Faculty building of Delhi University and one day to college. The headmistress of my school had recommended that college to me because its English Deptt. had an excellent faculty at that time. Our Head of the Department, Prof. M. N. Ghosh, was a Gold Medalist of Dhaka University. Actor Balram Swhaney’s younger brother, Dr. Bhism Swhaney was our teacher too.
This college was near Ajmeri Gate. It was opened in the 18th century by the Muslim Trust. It was closed several times by the British Govt. Finally it opened again after independence. When I joined the college, the college building and the Masjid inside were already more than a century old. They had become dilapidated as they were not well looked after. Our Honours classes were held in small rooms like the ones meant for the labourers in Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.
The Muslim girls came from the walled city of Delhi through Ajmeri Gate. They came in covered rickshaws clad in black ‘burkhas.’ They deposited their burkhas in the cloak room and went inside the college. In the evening they donned their burkhas again and went home. They were my friends – Nazma, Salma, Farzana, etc. It was a co-educational college. There was a lot of ‘pardah’ system. The boys queued outside the office and the girls inside for paying fees. But the classes were held together.
Though the college was governed by the Muslim Board, 50% of the teachers and students were Hindus. The warden of the hostel was Prof. Chatterjee, a Hindu Brahmin. He lived in the hostel with his family. There was perfect communal harmony. We were brought up listening to the ‘namaz,’ coming from the Masjid.
After sometime, we reached Ajmeri Gate but there was no sign of the college. Instead, we found the board of an ‘Arabic Higher Secondary School.’ We pushed the gate and found that some part of the college was being renovated. Shankar Lal, the third generation durwan of the college, directed us to its new location.
Shankar Lal & me
Old Delhi College is being renovated
Caption: An Arabic school in the site of the old Delhi College
I felt very amused at the naughty pranks of the genie. After some Google search, we reached the college which has been renamed, ‘Dr. Zakir Hussain College,’ (Delhi University).
In front of the reincarnated college
Caption: Foundation Stone of Dr. Zakir Hussain College
Caption: History of the three century old college
It was quite dark but we did not have much difficulty in entering the college as the evening classes were going on. The genie had changed the old and broken building into a modern spacious college with its magic lamp. The building was very impressive including the auditorium. My intuition told me that the college was doing very well academically. My first job was in this college but only for a week or so as my father did not want me to teach in a co-ed college. I was selected for ‘Mata Sundri College for Women’ as well. So I left Delhi College and joined Mata Sundri College.
Caption: The new modern building
Caption: Me & Sid on the green benches- Reminded me of the green benches in the erstwhile girls’ common room
Caption: Me & Soy in front of the auditorium
Caption: The college library
Mission completed. We headed home. I left visiting Delhi University to another trip. Hope genie has left it alone.
While coming in the car, I was thinking that I might have studied in tents, dilapidated classrooms and worked in barrack type colleges, still I owe a lot to them. Hinduism of Shyama Prasad Vidyalaya; Muslim culture of Delhi College and later Iran; Sikhism of Mata Sundri College; Christianity of English Literature and UK – all have contributed to my religious tolerance that I have today. May be for this religious tolerance when K wanted to marry a Parsi girl, I did not make any fuss. Nor do I regret my decision because Bahu K has adapted herself to our family as a fish in water. May god bless them both!
Goodbye friends! I am going back to Kolkata next week and in all probability this is my last post.
(courtesy: Sid for taking me to the school and colleges and taking the pictures;
Soy for typing the whole matter, pasting the photos and sending it to K)