GCU and the Ravians

February 6, 2022

Dr Ajaz Anwar takes us back in time, to the Government College, as he knew it

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied

It was still two hours for the list of the accepted applicants to be displayed. A large number of hopefuls already thronged the backyard of the Government College, Lahore. Mohammad Hussain, the head clerk, repeatedly came out of the office of the principal, while Dr Nazir Ahmad sought refuge in the office.

All eyes were on the notice board which was covered with thick, wire gauze. At the moment it only exhibited old notices of fines imposed on the delinquents. In the adjacent trees were perched some green parakeets that must have laid their eggs in the cavities of the thicker branches.

Parrots don’t make nests. These birds were all surprised to see so many of us picketing under their nestling place. Parrots on the trees and rote-learning human parrots on the ground marvelled at each other.

As soon as the list of selected candidates was pinned up on the notice board, all the gathered students converged as one solid mass. It was like a scene from a newly screened film where eager hands storm the ticket window. Everyone was trying to decipher their name in the carbon copy of the faulty and jerky, old typewriter. Very soon the crowd started melting away. Very few looked at the merit list according to the marks secured. It all seemed Greek to them, as no Rosetta stone was applicable on them.

Those who had succeeded in getting admission were now on an unguided tour of the campus, built on an ancient hillock. After entering through the main gate, while cycling over the steep slope, one needed to catch breath.

The big porch led to the principal’s office. Before it was a big red post box and some five small white pillars for barriers beyond which vehicles were not allowed. Frequently, we saw the revered principal, Dr Nazir Ahmed, riding his bicycle with his leather bag dangling in the carrier. Outside the principal’s office an old wooden bench was placed where the head peon, Abdullah, monitored the entry of all and sundry.

The new entrants had already forged friendships while the not-so-lucky ones shied away and were already trying to incubate their luck in other baskets. Since it was still the long summer break, the lecture rooms were all closed but one could peek in through the glass panes and the thick, wire gauzes. Tall black boards could be seen scribbled over with unintelligible mathematical or chemistry formulae.

Since the building is from pre-electricity era, the windows allowed plenty of air and light.

Another turn gave us a panoramic view of the neo-gothic edifice. Most imposing was its bell-tower, or belfry, with a huge watch. Its square ground floor had been turned into an octagon and finally topped with a lofty pyramidal roof with windows all around, at each story.

On the front a huge watch was fitted into a round hollow. This watch too, I believe, marked the hours tolled with loud bangs. Patras Bukhari was more appreciative of the pigeons that tried to perch on it when it was out of order. It also has a long metal strip that runs down to its base, which was meant to prevent it from being destroyed by lightning.

There was a smaller tower on the north western corner. A spiral staircase led to the top of it. On the ground floor stood the ladies’ common room behind which there was Bukhari Auditorium. The old library was on the first floor. Two sets of stairs led to it, marked UP and DOWN. No student ever violated the one way rule.


The main roof of the GCU’s original building is in timbre. The gables are more like inverted boats, devised by a ship-building nation. The slopes have been covered with slate stone plates. The upper story is composed of pointed arches punctuated with quatrefoil openings on the spandrels. The balustrades are of wrought and cast iron.

Under the tower there is a wide, wooden door which is opened only on special occasions.

On the western side, there is another big porch that gives access to the main congregation hall with the highest roof in the college, under which is a clearstory running around the hall. This is undoubtedly the best hall in the city. During the debating season, there is sound-barrier breaking commotion in the hall. One Old Hall debate is still fresh in the minds of the old students when Tariq Ali, a student activist, and his father, Mazhar Ali Khan, who had resigned as editor of The Pakistan Times after Ayub Khan took over the paper, stood against each other. The topic was: “This house rejects the modern youth.”

Soon afterwards, the much-loved principal, Dr Nazir Ahmed, was removed, reportedly for ‘disobeying’ the Nawab of Kalabagh. The students marched from the college via Punjab University campus, and spilled on The Mall, holding banners that screamed: “Don’t snatch our father.”

This scribe, too, joined the procession. Before we could reach the Governor’s House, Dr Nazir Ahmed had been reinstated. Back then, student union elections were also held. These used to be fiercely contested, yet no incident of violence ever happened. (The Kalashnikov culture developed only after the students unions were banned.)

The Government College, Ludhiana, was older than the one in Lahore because it was founded after the East India Company captured Lahore in 1849. It was founded as a teaching body while the University of Calcutta was the examining body for all the tests, from junior and senior vernacular to matriculation and degree courses, which caused considerable and unnecessary delay and wasted the candidates’ time.

The Punjab University was then founded in a room of GC, Lahore. Shortly after the Partition, most of the staff and the students left for the other side of the border. The same situation prevailed in other institutions, especially in the Fine Arts Dept of PU and in the Mayo School because few Muslim families could afford education beyond middle and matriculation levels. At that critical junction, a few teachers and other staff at GC, Ludhiana, who had come in as refugees, filled the vacuum. They included Dr Rasheed, who later became the college principal. The iconic Abdul Qayyum Jojo, who taught English literature, was also from Ludhiana.

GC’s cultural and literary activities, and its alumni, shall be discussed later. Prof Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui has recently written about the history of the GC which shall also be reviewed.

To be continued

Note: Free art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday online at houseofnannas.com

(This dispatch is dedicated to Prof Qayyum Nazar)

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 ajazart@brain.net.pk

GCU and the Ravians