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Hallowed halls: Raised by the Ravi

March 30, 2014

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The famous saying in Punjabi “One who has not seen Lahore, has seen nothing” is all encompassing. Mughal and British architecture, the Walled City, awesome buildings and sprawling gardens, unique culture, fabulous educational institutions, delicious food and last but not the least, the fun loving people of Lahore.

One of the great places worth seeing in Lahore is the Government College University (GCU) located at Katchery Road in the old city. In 2002, the Government College was upgraded to a university but the people of Lahore still lovingly refer to it by its previous name.

The college started functioning on January 1, 1864. With the establishment of the college, Dr G.W. Leitner of the Freiburg University, who was then professor of Arabic and Mohammedan Law at the King’s College London, was nominated as principal. He remained the principal till 1886. Professor W.H. Crank, who had been principal of the La Martiniere College, Lucknow, and was then studying at the University College London, was appointed as the Chair of Mathematics. At the end of the academic year 1865-1866, the college consisted of only 16 students.

The classes, in the beginning were held at the Raja Dhyan Singh Haveli near the Badshahi Mosque. In 1877, the campus was shifted to the magnificent Gothic architectural style building at its present location. The main building, which was designed by the British architect W. Purdon, remains the centrepiece of the sprawling campus, and boasts of an octagonal clock tower, spacious verandahs and wide, well lit hallways lined with photographs of GCU’s illustrious alumni. These include Allama Iqbal, Dr Abdus Salam and the three-time Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif.

Over the years, a number of structures have been added, including the Iqbal Hostel (named after Allama Iqbal), the Bukhari Auditorium, the GCU Library, the Abdus Salam Chair in Physics (a research centre) and the Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences.

The once mighty River Ravi has great significance and influence in the history of the college. GCU students proudly refer themselves as ‘Ravians’ and the name of the university’s century old prestigious magazine is also the Ravi. Before the publication of Ravi in 1910, an annual college magazine confined to records was started in June 1900, with P.S. Allen as editor. G.D. Sondhi was the college principal from 1939 to 1945 and was also the first editor of Ravi.

Ravi was primarily an English journal, which occasionally included original articles in Urdu. It was not until 1919 that the Urdu section became a regular feature of the magazine. Having completed a century of its publication, Ravi is currently one of the oldest magazines in the country, which continues to be printed regularly without interruption since 1910. The standard of its articles and poetry in Urdu is comparable with periodicals like Alamgir, Adabi Duniya, Adab-i-Latif, Savera, Naqoosh, Funoon and Auraq. The importance assigned to Ravi by the college administration can be judged from the fact that a number of Pakistan’s luminaries remained its editors.

Prof Sirajuddin was the editor in 1927-28 and was the college principal from 1950 to 1954 and again from 1956 to 1958. A.S. Bukhari remained the editor in 1919-20 and the college principal in 1947-50. Having the pen name of Patras Bukhari, he was an Urdu humourist, educationist, essayist, broadcaster and diplomat. Dr Abdus Salam (noble award laureate) remained the editor in 1945-46. Moeen A. Qureshi (ex-caretaker prime minister) was the editor in 1950-51 and Kamal Azfar (ex-governor of Sindh) was the editor in 1957-58. Economist Shahid Javed Burki was the editor in 1958-59 and Abdul Basit Haqqani, ex-ambassador to the US, was its editor in 1963-64.

Pran Nevile 92, who had a distinguished career in the Indian Foreign Service and the United Nations, studied at the Government College from 1937 to 1941. In his book Lahore Nevile has added a chapter about his experiences at the college. He describes the college environment in those days, “We were keen to look modern and imbibe modern ideas in general, which in other words meant that we gladly welcomed western influences”. Nevile was recently in Lahore to participate in the Lahore Literary Festival. While narrating his childhood images of Lahore, he said that those were the days of culture and enlightenment. Although he lives in Delhi, in his own words, it is Lahore that is closer to his heart and he has a feeling of exile away from it.

The pride of GCU — its orators — have always brought laurels to their alma mater in the inter-collegiate debating competitions. GCDC, abbreviation for the Government College Dramatics Club, came into existence much before the birth of Pakistan. Superstar Dev Anand and supporting actor Balraj Sahni, both of them Old Ravians, had their grooming at GCDC before they landed in Mumbai for lifelong careers in films. Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj got impetus from GCDC to achieve his unique style of writing Urdu dramas for the masses.

Having a total number of 10,808 students and 376 faculty members with 103 PhDs amongst them, GCU still retains the reputation for which it has always remained famous over the last 150 years.