Leaves from the past
Harbans Singh

50 Years of Government College Lahore (1864-1913)
by Dr Syed Sultan Mahmood Hussain. Izharsons, Lahore. Pages 566. Rs 450.

50 Years of Government College Lahore (1864-1913)THE importance of the book lies not just in the chronological information about the first 50 years of the famous college, nor does it lie in the fact that it promises to take the reader through a nostalgic journey through the years, which laid the foundation of a city and its culture as it was known to our ancestors. Its importance and value lies for those who can see the evolution of the modern education system shared by both India and Pakistan. A careful and critical study of the text also brings out the discrimination that the Indian scholars and educationists had to suffer in those early years of the unfolding of the drama written by Lord Macaulay.

Established in 1864, Government College Lahore was to follow Calcutta, Bombay and Madras as the centre for modern education. As the annual reports of the college unfold its development, one also comes across the impact it was having on other cities of the Punjab. In this context it is interesting to note that during the first year of its existence, all the nine students on roll were awarded scholarships. It is amusing to find that the amount of scholarship had to be substantially raised, as it was realised that the same amount could be earned as salary as well by a government servant. Thus, as an incentive, scholarship amount was made higher than the salary of a government employee.

Of equal interest is the fact that various municipalities and districts of the Punjab offered their students scholarships for studying in Lahore. However, when Amritsar had its own college, those students were at a distinct disadvantage. Credit must be given to both the British and the local society for spreading and adapting to the new education system. By the year 1885-86 the non-scholarship holder students had become a majority. A long journey, indeed, from the days when all the students were lured into continuing education with handsome scholarships!

The book is neatly divided into parts that consist of the year-wise history of the college, the annual reports of the Principals and the Director of Public Instructions as well as other sundry things like the question papers, which make equally fascinating study. It is worthwhile to mention that on the page 235, the Principal informs that the students of English subject of the F.A. class were at a disadvantage, as they had to be taught by a "native Assistant Professor". However, when the result of that year of the B.A. students, who were taught by a regular English Professor, was compared with that of F.A., it was found that the students of the "native Assistant Professor" had fared much better, forcing the Principal into question the examination system as well as the examiner! Not much has changed today, one might add.

There are some interesting features in the book that have not been adequately dealt with. A reader would have loved to know more about Pandit Guru Datt, a graduate of the college, whose debating skills had been applauded in Aligarh, and who rose to become an Assistant Professor in the college but died a premature death in 1889. The book has confined itself to the bare facts and figures and, therefore, while the human face of those made the college is missing, also missing is the great intellectual battle and debate in which The Tribune engaged G. W. Leitner, the first Principal of the college, on the subject of what education ought to be.

Nevertheless, to be honest, with all its shortcomings because of less than ordinary printing, avoidable errors and poor editing, it should make interesting reading for those engrossed in the social evolution of the region.