The death of alma mater

RS Dasta

WITHOUT fear of any contradiction, it can be stated that the British gave us the most enchanting hill stations. Even Chail in Himachal came into existence only after a maharaja was debarred from visiting Shimla as a fallout of a romantic escapade. In most of these salubrious havens, the British built many prestigious educational institutions, but perhaps for one — Shimla’s Bhargava Municipal (BM) College.

The college had come up indigenously as a replication of Forman Christian College, Lahore, and was named after Punjab’s first chief minister, Gopi Chand Bhargava, and the then affluent municipal committee of Shimla. The British had left the committee with brimming coffers. It was considered one of the richest municipal committees in India. BM College was also one of the best colleges in the North. Its hostel had no equal in grandeur and amenities. The attached bathroom equalled a bedroom of a modern 3BHK flat. The college’s imposing premises was a hotel before it came to accommodate recuperating officers of the allied forces during World War II. About 60 per cent of the impressive structure was built with Burma teak and the local deodar wood. Spread over an extensive area, the four-storeyed structure had annexes, mess halls, conference rooms, laboratories, an administrative block, a library and servant quarters. The complex faced snow-capped mountain ranges of the Himalayas, to the east.

The institution had an excellent faculty and competent support staff. There were teachers like Swami Jagan Nath, who not only taught botany and health science, but was also the sports instructor and hostel superintendent. A retired naval officer, he had been the manager of the Dhyan Chand-led Indian hockey team that trounced Hitler’s team during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The college attracted the cream of students from local schools, and also from other cities and abroad, as part of the student-exchange programme. It produced eminent luminaries in various fields.

The college had risen like a meteor, but faded away like a shooting star within two decades due to political apathy and subsequent impecuniosity of the MC. Political worthies, after Gopi Chand Bhargava, had their own agenda and constituencies to look after. A time came when the college did not have funds even to meet the expenses of salaries and building maintenance. To cut costs, it shifted to a barrack-like accommodation below the Cart Road in Mayfair Estate. But woebegone, there too it could not be sustained for long. Finally, it was then merged with a poorer cousin, SD College, to evolve SDBM College. After sometime, even this arrangement failed and now the ill-fated amalgam lies buried somewhere in Shimla.

When I visited Shimla sometime ago and passed by the birthplace of my alma mater, I was shocked to see its present condition. It looked like a chawl. Laundry of its numerous tenants covered the verandahs from one end to the other, giving it a look of a dhobi-ghat. The feeling that overwhelmed me was akin to a child being orphaned.

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