excellence, 150 years ago
A pillar of hope
Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia Government College in Kapurthala was the first institution of higher education in the region. Bikram Singh Virk says the college, with a number of firsts to its credit, stands uncared for today
IT is a matter of honour and pride for Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia Government College in Kapurthala to enter the 150th year of its establishment. It was set up as a Sanskrit vidyalya and named Randhir School in 1856 by ruler of Kapurthala, Maharaja Randhir Singh. In the same year, universities also came up in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.
Students in Randhir School used to sit under a peepal tree, and were taught in the traditional guru-shishya parampara. This 200-year-old peepal still adorns the college premises. By 1871, four languages, namely Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit and English, were taught in the school, which had classes up to matriculation. Till 1882, when Punjab University was set up in Lahore, the institution remained affiliated to Calcutta University. Being the only institution of higher learning in the region, students from other princely states also studied here.
When the next ruler, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh, was a minor, the control of the state was in the hands of English administrators. The institution made rapid strides under the guidance of three European principals. On assuming active control in 1890, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh took keen interest in the education system of the state and raised the classes up to the intermediate level in 1896. Natural sciences were added to the curriculum of the college during this period. Since the Maharaja was fond of French, in 1916 Randhir College became the only institution to teach this language in the region.
To accommodate the rising number of students, a U-shaped building consisting of classrooms was constructed in 1912 around the peepal tree. This building is known as the U-Block and classes are held in it even today.
In 1916, the Maharaja laid the foundation of Jubilee Hall in commemoration of the golden jubilee celebrations of his coronation. This magnificent building, with traces of French architecture, served as an examination hall, conference hall and a reading room. In 1930, the college library was also housed in this mammoth building and remained there for a long time.
According to the Punjab University’s calendar of 1918-19, as many as 27 institutions of higher learning were affiliated to it by that time, with Randhir College standing as the oldest educational institution in the region apart from Edward’s College in Peshawar, which was established as a school in 1855. The famous Government College and Foreman Christian College in Lahore were established as schools in 1864 and 1866, respectively.
In 1905, the college was reorganised on the lines suggested by Lord Curzon’s Commission and Manohar Lal was appointed Principal-cum-DPI of all educational institutions of the state. Manohar Lal was succeeded by H.Y.Langhorne in 1910. It was during his tenure that the number of students increased significantly in educational institutions across the state.
The high priority given to education by state rulers is evident from the fact that the salary paid to the principal and teachers was much higher than other functionaries of the state. Langhorne was getting a monthly salary of Rs 400 plus a special allowance of Rs 100, whereas the professors were paid Rs 275 per month. In comparison, the salaries drawn by Sessions Judge, Magistrate, A.G., S.P. and CMO were Rs 425, Rs 325, Rs 275 and Rs 250, respectively. Only Chief Judge was getting Rs 550 per month.
Lala Mathura Dass, who became principal of the college in 1914, was a remarkable scholar. A school in the city was named after him — it still runs as MDSD Senior Secondary School. The other prominent teachers of the time included Lala Tej Ram, S. Arbel Singh, (later principal of the college), Jagmohan Lal, Mohamad Ali and Pandit Shri Ram.
Centre of learning
Randhir College was the only institution of higher learning in the area which had a large number of students from other states. A serai was erected for their accommodation and later a large boys’ hostel was constructed in 1920. The education was free for student of the Oriental Section and even their lodging and boarding expenses were borne by the Dharam-Arth Department of the state. The poor but otherwise meritorious students were given a stipend of Rs 4 to Rs 10 per month by Kumar Amarjit Singh, son of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh.
The strength of the students of the institution rose from 110 in 1912 to 272 in 1925. By 1916, the college taught eight languages, including Arabic, Hindi and Gurmukhi. A majority of the students preferred English, Persian and Urdu. About half of the students were Muslims as about 60 per cent of the population of the state consisted of Muslim population prior to Partition of the country. In 1935, evening classes were started in photography, shorthand and typewriting.
A fair chance
Co-education was started in 1943, with only 12 girls joining the college at that time. However, their number grew to 21 in 1945-46. There used to be a thin partition in the centre of the classroom, separating the girl students from boys. But Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was committed to the cause of education for women and opened exclusive schools for girls in other towns of the state.
The college also excelled in the field of sports and their football, hockey, cricket and tennis teams participated in various university tournaments. A trophy in cricket and football was started in 1909. Boxing, baseball and basketball were introduced in the college in 1931. It became a nursery of basketball players later and produced a number of well-known players.
Degree classes in arts and science were started in 1946 and the college became a post-graduate institution in 1976 when it began M.A. English classes. At present, the college offers postgraduation in three subjects, English, economics and commerce. Three new courses, PGDCA, B.Sc. computer science and B.Sc. economics, have been introduced this year.
An annual education durbar, presided over by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh, was held every year in February or March on the college campus. The annual report of the college was read by Principal-cum-DPI of the state. The results and performance of the other educational institutions in the state were also presented on the occasion. A gold medal, worth Rs100 was awarded by the Maharaja to the student who stood first in F.A. exam in the college and a silver medal was given to the topper in the Oriental Section.
Randhir College has produced some important personalities. They include the late Swaran Singh, former Foreign Minister; Ghulam Mohammed, former Governor of Pakistan; Balwant Singh, former Finance Minister of Punjab; Gulzar Singh and Jagtar Singh Multani, both former ministers of Punjab; Kirpal Singh Dhillon, former MLA.
Famous basketball players like Sajjan Singh Cheema, Parminder Singh Bhandal, both recipients of Arjuna Award, and Mubark Ali of Pakistan were products of this college. To the literary world, it has lent poets like Sohan Singh Meesha and Surjit Pattar, and German poet laureate Rajwinder Singh. Film actor Pran, Promod Moutho and many other artistes are proud products of the college.
Picture of neglect
This institution with a glorious past, today, is in a state of neglect. The college hostel has been demolished and was acquired by PUDA in 2000 with the promise of a new building. The promise, however, remains unfulfilled. The college needs an academic block, which hasn’t transcended beyond the stage of the foundation, which was laid in 2004. It is time the authorities restored its past glory.
A pillar of hope
IT’S difficult to accept that one is suffering from a terminal disease," she says as the wind blows in from the Shivaliks through her garden, lifting the hair off her pale face. The pallor of her face is discouraging, but there’s an aura of calm about her. Her eyes are the windows to her soul — the soul of the steel-willed ‘Lady of Hope’.
How does one handle life that is slowly ebbing away? How does one come to terms with the end of life?
The woman sitting before me and speaking so matter of factly has done this and more. Since 1997, Neelu Tuli has been the public face and founding Director of the Sahayta Cancer Sahyog, a non-profit organisation, working for the aid, assistance and rehabilitation of cancer patients.
Neelu’s first acquaintance with cancer was when her sister was diagnosed with the disease. Her involvement deepened as she supported her sister through her treatment and the aftercare. It was then that she realised the lack of awareness about cancer and the significance of support groups. That was the beginning of Sahayta. Today nine years on, Sahayta volunteers are a reassuring presence for cancer survivors and patients in Chandigarh.
"Cheer up, you will be fine," everyone says with a genuine feeling to cancer patients but the latter are aware that this is a hollow assurance. What they really need is silence and someone who can listen to them. And that is why support groups like Sahayta are such an important presence in palliative and end-of-life care. There’s a wonderful bond between survivors and support group workers. Just being able to share with someone the agony and pain of chemotherapy, losing one’s crowning glory and finding tips on getting the right wigs, wonderdrugs, mastectomy bras, walkers and braces can be tremendously soothing.
Supports groups strive to make survivors determined not to lose today worrying about tomorrow. As one survivor puts it in Sahayta’s July newsletter, "Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved".
Survivors get together to celebrate each precious month of life at a monthly luncheon meeting. Interacting with these bright, gifted, talented and courageous ladies, gentlemen and children is a lesson for lesser mortals: each one’s story is an awe-inspiring lesson in coping with adversity.
From many a forum, Neelu had articulated, "There is life after cancer and it is meaningful." Even as she worked tirelessly to promote greater awareness and early detection of the disease which, she believes, is the key to survival, the diagnosis in her own case was however too late. The cancer had already metastasised. She’s gone through several phases, fluctuating from hope to resignation and finally the acceptance of God’s will.
Chemotherapy, which she could barely endure; ‘talking’, yes talking to her drugs to cure her as Anup Kumar writes in his book The Joy of Cancer; ayurveda; and even a faith healer — she’s tried it all, egged on by family and friends. But she is calm now when she says, "I have seen so many go, but also so many fight and survive."
Neelu has now refused further chemotherapy. "Let it be used for those who have a chance," she says. She is grateful that doctors treated her with love —a treatment stronger than medication. Even today, prayers of survivors, patients, friends and family are buoying her through each day of pain.
She talks of areas which have yet to be visited such as rights of cancer patients, health insurance, disability benefits, and jobs for the afflicted. Sahayta has many milestones to its credit. Neelu has also been a founder member of Cancer Care India and a member of International Confederation of Childhood Cancer Parent Organisation (ICCCPO).
International Childhood Cancer Day is held on February 15 by Sahayta. It lays special focus on the Advanced Paediatric Centre and pediatric oncology in the PGI. Paintings and toys dot the children’s ward. The kids themselves demand "empathy not sympathy". Sahayta’s stalls and collection cases are ubiquitous in retail outlets and schools throughout Chandigarh. A Sahayta card or stationary means medicine and comfort for a cancer patient. This goes a long way in fulfilling Sahayta’s mission that no one should go untreated for want of funds.
Neelu is thankful for her family’s loving support, which has helped her determined fight against cancer. Each day after a painful night, she awakens with a fresh resolve to get through her list of things to do for Sahayta. "That’s the way I’d like to go", she says, "…working for Sahayta."
Here’s hoping that all our prayers will give her strength to go on and on.