Patna College: 'Oxford of the East' in need of restoration

Written by PTI | Patna | Updated: Jan 8 2014, 19:38pm hrs
British author E M Forster referred to it in his book "A Passage to India" and director Satyajit Ray shot his award-winning film "Seemabaddha" on its picturesque campus, but today this 150-year-old institution is in dire need of restoration, both "institutional" and "architectural".

Hailed once as the 'Oxford of the East', Patna College will tomorrow complete 151 years of its existence.

However, its famed hostels and celebrated corridors built more than a century ago have now become a "picture of decay" owing to lack of repair and has left many of its alumni miffed at the state of affairs in the "once-beloved" campus.

Alumnus Shanker Dutt, who did his BA (English) from it during the tumultuous year of the Emergency in 1975, still fondly recalls the academic ambience and rues the decline in educational quality and institutional standards that have taken the "shine off this towering beacon".

"Patna College was not just an iconic symbol of education but of the city as a whole. It was in many ways a seminary of cultural refinements, a crucible of excellence, a veritable symbol of Patna, all that has been lost today," Dutt told PTI.

Now a professor of English at the Patna University, to which the College is affiliated to, Dutt says, after "decades of decay" what the campus now needs is both an "architectural and an institutional restoration".

Eminent historian and author Surendra Gopal and an alumnus himself appealed to the authorities for immediate restoration of the "prized murals in the East Wing".

"I am worried about the iconic Greek-styled murals and motifs inside its East Wing hall of the administration block, crying for restoration before they get lost forever. The government must ensure they are systematically restored," Gopal said.

Gopal, who is now retired, has in his book "Patna in the 19th Century" described Patna College vividly and misses its "old glory".

"I remember the beautiful Wilson Rose Garden on the banks of Ganga, next to the manicured tennis courts. And, of course the Azim Garden between the Language Block and the Iqbal Hostel, all erased now in a haphazard growth. But, the decay only reflects the decay of the city (Patna) that once was loved and celebrated by many," he said.

Jackson Hostel, named after ex-principal V H Jackson and Minto Hindu Hostel, named after the then Viceroy Lord Minto are both now more than 100 years old and have become a picture of neglect. The wrought-iron banisters and parapets now being eaten away with time in a poignant decay.

In an essay 'The College by a River: Patna College', literary scholar, author and cricketer Sujit Mukherjee, who visited his alma mater a few years before his death in 2003, lamented the lost legacy of an institution that once "rivalled the likes of Oxford and Cambridge".

"Perhaps, late on some not too far August or September night, when the water is high, the college will simply jump into the river. The Ganga will neither pause nor look back, it has seen too much already," Mukherjee said in the essay.

Built from the nucleus of a Dutch opium godown, the college's main administration block is unique for its twin-order architecture, incorporating a wondrous mix of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns.

While a new paint job being undertaken can be seen in the campus, the "shine belies the heritage behind the facade".

"These are historic buildings and need painstaking restoration, brick by brick. Not some short-cut refurbishment with a whitewash on top," Anchit Pandey, a Patna-based alumnus said.

Dutt recalling the halcyon days said, "What made Patna College great was the academic stalwarts that taught in the campus. And, the knowledge and wisdom they instilled and values they inculcated in us became invariably the value of the city, which is missing today both from teachers as well as the students side."

"Campus politics carrying forward the great deal of indiscipline the Emergency period had wrought, has destroyed this campus, but which still can rise with right leadership," he said.

The college has produced barristers like Sachchidanand Sinha, national poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, politicians like Krishna Sinha, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, and famed socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, and countless doctors, engineers, artists, administrators, architects among others in between.

Its esteemed faculty included history giants like R S Sharma, K K Datta, S H Askari, Sir Jadunath Sarkar among others. European teachers V H Jackson, J L Hill, and principal J S Armour, among others are still remembered.

The origin of Patna College can be traced to the establishment of Patna High School in 1835 which later gave birth to Patna Branch School in 1854 and eventually the Collegiate School in 1862 out of which the college was born in 1863.

J K Rogers was its first principal-in-charge while its first full-fledged principal was J W McCrindle renowned for his English translation of Megasthenes's 'Indica'.