Dr Ajaz Anwar on intellectual conversations over sips of tea and the various activities of the literary and cultural societies of Government College
Next to the fruit shop was a grassy plot, reserved for the professors and the old students to enjoy intellectual company and sip tea. Some current students were also allowed to join them, in order to learn table manners and take part in intellectual conversations. Some of the long retired professors could be seen there. Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum was a familiar face. The canteen contractor would personally cater to his tastes and manners.
It was here that the performance of the various literary and cultural societies of the college was evaluated. The conversationalists would be especially critical of the black and sepia films shown on the old and faulty 16mm projector. Besides the noisy sound track, the images were more like strands of threads, with countless mosquitoes floating about. However, they would give grace marks for Bridgette Bardot tiptoeing around.
They also disapproved of the rifle range on the educational premises. A certain Lodhi was running the show. This 40-plus student was a mystery; nobody knew if he ever got enrolled.
The open-air, or amphitheatre, would come to life during the performances in summer evenings and during bonfires. It’s a gift by GD Sondhi who built a similar venue at the Lawrence Gardens. Years later, a fountain with a benign lion head was built near the main belfry. It was inaugurated by Justice Abdul Rashid in memory of Prof Sondhi.
Prof Sondhi was the first ‘old student’ of GC to be appointed the principal of the college. At a bonfire, an over enthusiastic and robust student sang an unintelligible song at such a high pitch that all the birds perched on trees flew away while the night birds such as owls returned to hear more closely. After the student was done, all those present on the occasion shouted in unison, “Once more!” But as the ‘culprit’ merrily returned to the dais, the students booed him away.
Just outside the western outer wall there’s a wide road that was originally known as The Mall. The Mall now running through the Donald Town was originally called Lawrence Road. This western wall had a large milestone with distances of different cities of West Pakistan inscribed on it. This was Zero Mile, all white-washed. Unfortunately, this historic piece of stone was removed to widen the road.
Just three miles away flowed the Iravati, or the Ravi. No wonder the GC students are known as Ravians. The college magazine too is known as The Ravi. Most boys’ colleges boasted rowing clubs and had their own boats. Such was the craze for the river that early in the morning the boys would reach the left bank near Gao Shala, or home for the old cows, enter their names in the register and get oars and embark on the boat. Lone boys weren’t allowed to take the boat; and you had to pay four annas for a proxy guest.
Rowing against the river flow is a strenuous task. It would take some six hours to reach the Mehmood Booti bund (embankment); one could reach back downstream in just 15 or so minutes. A lunch of chickpeas, commonly called chikkarr chholay with naan was really energising, while for cold drink the clear Himalayan water could be downed in one go.
Sugarcane or gandairis too was an indigenous sweet. The eatery was located on a small island under the railway bridge. One day, a boat in charge came to the college to report that a student who had been issued a boat the previous day hadn’t returned and had presumably drowned. He was in fact sitting next to me in the psychology class conducted by Prof MA Khan. Instead of struggling upstream he had found it more entertaining and joyful to let the boat go with the flow of water. After abandoning the vessel at Balloki, he had taken a bus back home. Just how they managed to bring back the boat to Lahore is best left to the imagination.
The college also had a swimming pool which was thronged by energetic young boys who did not necessarily know how to swirl in the water. In the hot summer season a prolonged dip itself lowered the mercury for the swimmers.
Next to the swimming pool is the boys’ hostel, or quadrangle, where eminent students such as Allama Iqbal once took up lodgings. Dr Ajmal was the hostel superintendent back in the day. Some years back, Saadat Ullah Khan, a civil engineer, proposed that it should be demolished. His argument was that it had dilapidated beyond repair. The proposal was struck down by me because I had attended a UNESCO course on the restoration of cultural heritage, in Rome. He should have known that tell-tales can show that not all cracks are live.
The oldest part of the campus, a gymnasium, was built much before the main building, as a church, in neo-Greek or Palladian style. It was later converted into a facility for the gymnasts. Mr Mansha was the chief instructor. Once I too tried to join the facility because I was always fascinated by the sight of my class mates perched on the swings. One had to rub one’s hands with a certain chemical, locally called baroza, which prevented the hands from losing grip over the rods. The first lesson Mansha gave me was how to behave when you are losing balance and falling down. His argument was that one should roll over in the same direction. Since he was short in height, I soon realised that I’d never be able to gain an extra inch. Thus, I left that strenuous exercise.
Moreover, I had heard that games were better than gymnastics. But Zubair, the goldsmith, and Mazhar Minhas, the journalist, stayed on.
There was a nice tennis court/ lawn next to the pool. A large cage housed different birds including peahens.
The campus has sadly been over-constructed. A back gate leads to the Chatterjee Road, named after Prof GN Chatterjee who taught mathematics and Arabic.
Right across the Secretariat, there’s a tall building that took many years to build. It was home to the physics department where Dr Azmat Saeed too served. It is believed that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was initiated in this building. Jinnah is said to have ordered research on it.
GC girls’ hostel is located next to it. Roberts Club stands there too, with its secretive ambience where IG Saadat Ullah Khan spent some time while sidelined by N Sharif.
This hillock, though man made, is really ancient as some red sandstone beams and pillars retrieved and displayed in front of the chemistry department show.
These architectural elements must have formed some sort of imperial buildings. The dried, preserved crocodiles displayed on the walls of the zoology department always caught our attention while we treaded towards the psychology department.
Across the road from Alhamra, next to the Lawrence Gardens, there is GC’s botanical garden. One is always indebted to this great institution. The story of it cannot be told in a few columns.
Next week: A review of Prof Khalid Masud Siddiqui’s book on the history of Government College
(This dispatch is dedicated to Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, the creator of Tot Batot)
Note: Free Art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday at the House of NANNAs. This Sunday, Nasira Habib will be the chief guest on a session on organic gardening.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org