Driving through the gates of Government Mohindra College, Patiala, takes you back to the 19th century. Since 1875, the colonial heritage building flanked by two stately towers has stood tall in its glory, leaving generations in awe. The pride associated with being a Mohindrian is understandable.
“I was also awestruck when I walked into the campus for the first time as a 16-year-old with my father,” says principal Sangeeta Handa, who passed FSc (intermediate in science) in 1978. She went on to pursue English literature and joined her alma mater as a lecturer in 1983. “This is home ever since. I feel like Tiresias, the blind prophet in TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, who has seen it all – the past and the future,” she says, elegantly attired in a cream sari that matches the college milieu.
“When I studied here, we were about 2,000 students but there was cohesion. Teachers were close-knit. In the postmodernist scenario, we have 8,300 students but I observe they live in isolation thanks to cell phones. Individualism is dominant. We rarely stand up for each other. I want to change this mindset. Today’s youth has tremendous potential but is challenged by distractions,” she says.
Walking up to the white marble foundation stone of the college building that The Earl of Northbrook, the then viceroy of India, laid on March 30, 1875, the principal says the college was a gift of the then Maharaja Mohinder Singh (1852-76) of Patiala to his state subjects. It cost Rs 9 lakh to build the college in nine years. When viceroy Lord Ripon performed the opening ceremony on March 17, 1884, the college was affiliated to Calcutta University. It was the only institution of its kind from Lahore to Delhi.
Initially, the institution was open only for state subjects but because of the demand, students from as far as Sargodha and Karachi (now in Pakistan), Lucknow and Asansol (in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) also came here to study. To start with, the college imparted education in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic. Teaching in English and mathematics began after that and in 1880 intermediate classes were started. To commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign, the college was upgraded to BA standard and affiliated to Punjab University, Lahore.
For more than half a century no fee was charged. The college emerged as a nursery for the state’s recruits.
Former president S Radhakrishnan and English novelist EM Forster visited the college on occasions, showing it had occupied the pride of place among educationists. “Though Forster does not name the college in A Passage To India, those familiar with this institution can find references to it in his novel,” says Handa.
She shares another interesting anecdote of how the second principal, Dwarka Das, was the best friend of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai and was appointed for two years in 1886 on his recommendation.
During World War 1, the FSc course or science classes were introduced. A botanical garden and a museum were also set up.
After Independence, the college became a symbol of hope and aspiration not only for scholars devoted to the pursuit of education but also for youngsters who couldn’t afford expensive education in private institutions that had begun coming up.
“Mohindra College was set up to provide free education as the region was educationally impoverished. A century and a half on, it is still a draw for quality yet affordable education, particularly for youngsters from the rural belt. It’s a rural feeder college but the emphasis remains on developing a holistic, benevolent attitude among our students,” she says.
CUT TO PRESENT
Students engrossed in last-minute revision before the exams sit huddled under the lone ages old banyan tree in the lawn in front of the hall of the main building. Though classes are still held in the old building, the hall, which is locked till restoration, has wood flooring with a high ceiling and is lined with full-length windows. A painting of college founder Maharaja Mohinder Singh is mounted at the centre and also that of the fifth principal and educationist TL Vasvani, who served the institution from 1915-19.
During principal Joginder Singh’s tenure from 1982-87, the hall was converted from a reading room to a badminton hall. The college was runners-up in badminton in 1985-86 and 1986-87 and won the championship for the first time in 21 years. Today, paintings of different facets of the college made by members of the fine arts department adorn the walls of the hall, which opens into a courtyard where inter-college youth festivals used to be held. “Singer Gurdas Maan would perform here in the late ’70s when we were students,” recalls Handa.
The architectural grandeur of the institution draws film units till date.“Several movies have been shot here. The recent Alia Bhatt-starrer Raazi was shot here last September. It’s a hospital scene set in Pakistan. Then the shooting of Punjabi film Nikka Zaildar was also done here,” she says.
The college has kept pace with time and facilities on offer include the central library, departmental libraries, wi fi computer centre, law moot court, gymnasium, two auditoriums with a seating capacity of 600 and 250, and sports infrastructure, including a 400-metre track for athletics besides venues for football, basketball, volleyball, hockey and swimming.
The Higher Education Institute Society (HEIS), an extended arm of the college, is involved in the pursuit of running professional (self-financed) courses, including business management, computer science, applied sciences such as biotechnology and agriculture, basic sciences, law and journalism.
The college has an illustrious record in sports. Alumnus PS Sidhu, 77, who also served as principal of the college from 1996-99, recalls how five players in the men’s hockey India team in 1956 were from Mohindra College. Harnek Singh was the Asian record holder in the decathlon event, while Gurang Ditta Singh Brar was an Asia record holder in discus throw, Sidhu says. He makes special mention of Dr Amarjit Marwaha of Faridkot who built an auditorium in memory of his mother-in-law, Kartar Kaur, a physical education teacher at the college. Sidhu says she taught him during his stint as a student in the college from 1954-62.
“These times are different. Quality has fallen victim to populist policies. Discipline among students is also on the decline. Heritage and tradition should not be given the go-by,” he says.
The Old Students Association of the college was formed in 1985 and meets in the quaint Sabha Bhawan adjoining the main building. Among the Mohindrians are retired defence personnel, judges, doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, police officials, ministers, writer and lyricists. Among them are air marshal Amarjit Singh Chahal (retd), brigadier Zora Singh Dhaliwal (retd), physician Dr Harbans Lal, writer Joginder Singh, lyricist Surjeet Gill, former PPSC chairman the late Giani Lal Singh, playwright the late Harpal Tiwana, poet the late Sardar Anjum, former J&K DGP Gurbachan Jagat, writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana, former SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar, BIS Chahal, a former adviser to the CM, and cricketers Mohinder Pandove and Reet Mohinder Singh Sodhi.
POINTS TO PONDER
*A unique feature of this institution was that for more than half a century it did not levy any tuition fee on students. Free education attracted students to its portals from far and wide and gave it an all-India character. There was a liberal policy of recruitment of staff from wherever best talent was available in the country. – SM Verma, a former history professor at the college.
*The lure of the mysterious towers of Mohindra Colleges was as irresistible as it is now. The two towers, pointing to the heavens, are still the tallest structures on the skyline of Patiala. The aerial view of the building reveals the image of ‘M’ which shows the architect kept in mind the shape of the first letter of Mohindra while designing the building. – Joginder Singh, alumnus and principal from 1982-87.
STAMP OF HONOUR
In recognition of its contribution to higher learning, the Government of India issued a commemorative postage stamp on the college on March 14, 1988.
A portrait of college founder Mohinder Singh, who had a bent of mind towards the propagation of education. He died at the age of 24, days after he suffered a fit of epilepsy. It is said that a pundit at Kashi once told him that if he would start providing free education to his subjects, the Lord would give rest to his soul in heaven. Mohinder Singh created an education department on June 13, 1870, with an annual expenditure of Rs 27,000.
THEN AND NOW
Principal Sangeeta Handa with the college foundation stone. The college got its first woman principal in Sudeep Bhangoo in 2009 followed by Rupa Saini, an Arjuna awardee, in 2011. Handa says women make better administrators and points out that all five colleges in Patiala now have women at the helm.