Reports of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Presidency College brought memories of college days crowding to my mind. I had to fight a lot with my family for entering this co-educational institution. It was my dream since long to seek admission to this college, specially as some of the senior girls from our school were already studying there.
But alas! as soon as our Higher Secondary results were published my father got me admitted to Lady Brabourne College. I used to take bus no. 10 from Park Circus every day to return to Gariahat from where I would find another bus to Lansdowne. And what a tryst with destiny I had!
On three consecutive days I met my seniors from Presidency College in the bus. On the first day they kindly enquired why I did not participate in the admission test for Presidency. On the second day they insisted that I leave the institution of my father's choice and come to Presidency. On the third day also they played the same music to my ears adding more and more to my heartburn.
I kept on thinking that one could study in a college only once in one's life. If I failed to be at Presidency it meant I would perpetually be banished from that distinguished stature. When I could not bear the anguish anymore, I went to the house of a science student from our school who was studying Maths honours in Presidency and accompanied her to her college the next day.
I chanced upon my school seniors in the college immediately. But admissions were over. I pleaded with a English Department Professor to arrange a special test for me. He went and spoke to Professor Tarak Sen, who was the Head of the Department in those days. But Tarakbabu was unmoved by my predicament. However, Prof. Amales Tripathy of the History Department yielded to my request and granted me the much sought after opportunity to be included among the heaven born alumni.
But my halcyon days in my dream college were to come to an abrupt end very soon. Prof. Tripathy had spoken about the great things he still hoped for from Presidency students during the Freshers' Welcome. I too had been hoping for great things to happen. I had entertained great expectations from our teachers, each of whom had a record of unsurpassed excellence in academics.
However, student violence soon reached such proportions that the college was closed sine die from 4 December 1968. Professor Tripathy joined Calcutta University soon after, denuding the college of a talented teacher.
Our days thereafter alternated between forced closures by certain student wings, brickbats on the CRP picket permanently posted inside the college, fights between students of two rival unions and occasional bomb blasts.
I still remember a lecture by a Student Federation leader Shekhar, who harped over the gulf between two divergent classes of students studying in the same institution. The mothers of one set of students plead with them, he said with great demagogy, to satisfy their hunger with burnt chapattis when they return home after the tiring day in the college, while another set is greeted with glasses of wine when they return. I could not decide which set I should belong to, as my experience matched neither.
But I felt moved to hear that there could really be so much of difference. Corridor walls and canteen doors were painted with odd slogans like 'the Chairman of China is also our Chairman,' 'power flows from the barrel of a gun', 'red salute to Mao-tse-Tung' or 'he who studies the most is the stupidest these days'. Sumita Chando, a philosophy Honours student got so carried away by Shekhar's slogans that she stayed back after college to go and mix with the college sweepers in their quarters. We heard one day that during one such visits she had even tried to share their drinks and fell unconscious as a result.
The Police Commissioner's son was in our class and I heard that Student Federation leaders had asked for his help to kill his father. I am not sure how Indrajit managed to wriggle out of the situation. Very bright science students like Manojit and Selima were involved in the movement although I heard that they were later shipped off to the US or UK. by their rich and influential fathers to elude the police.
Shekhar was injured while trying to hurl a bomb on the CRP picket from the second floor verandah. The CRP fired and Shekhar was probably injured. Sumita Chando alone went to rescue him I later heard. Tear gas shells were fired all over the college and we had to sit inside the teacher's common room with doors tightly shut from inside till police forces rescued us and made us march out of the college in a straight file; It had become sort of fashionable for even Hindu school boys opposite the college to hurl bombs and often we faced splinters of bombs falling from the school roof while waiting to catch buses.
Traffic used to be diverted through other routes due to these incidents and we had to walk to Sealdah to find buses to our homes. The transfer policy of the Government had also hit us hard and teachers were frequently transferred so that we read the first topic of our Medieval Europe paper three times with three teachers over seven months. The new teacher always insisted on beginning afresh and what with student strikes and forced closures we could not proceed beyond the first topic. I seriously began to believe that my father's curse for having joined Presidency against his wishes had taken its toll on my fate.
I had to work very hard in my post-graduate days to recover from the impact of the losses that I suffered during those days. 1972 to 1974 were comparatively tranquil, though I do not exactly remember why our 1973 M.A. Examination had to be postponed till May 1975 and we could pass out only in 1976. However, when I look back to my college days I cannot but cherish my classes with eminent teachers like Professor Ashin Dasgupta who had come fresh from Oxford and tried to give us his best during those tumultuous times.