Banaras Hindu University and Change

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(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh)

It was a tradition in my family. We all went to the same university for our studies: all the siblings of my father and all the sisters of my mother. There was nothing else ever thought of. The name of Banaras and that of the university with the same name in its beginning were inseparable in our collective un/conscious. It was not planned: the programming of the software whose paths led only to one place for higher studies. It was an institutionalization of the prejudice that had solidified in the years after our independence that had given BHU its special elite status in Kasi. The other two universities of the city and the colleges of Purvanchal University stood nowhere in comparison to BHU on the scale of snob value. As far as I know, although the absolute position of BHU may not be the same, vis-a-vis the other universities in the world; its position vis-a-vis the other universities in the city remains the same.

I must also mention that Dr. Singh (who sent the image of the singh dwar above) et.al. are the products of the same university. In our time, as in the time before ours, anyone who could, did study in BHU. I don’t, nor did I, in the past, sustain the idea of the inherent supremacy of the students and teachers of the university (Okay, for some time, I did attempt to defend such a stance, but soon gave up the impossible task). It was the herd effect alright, but more than that, it was the bewitching beauty and the expanse of the campus that made it all happen. I dropped one year after intermediate only because I would not go to any other place. The choice of the exact institute to study in was made on the basis of externals. In particular, the choice of an Institute over a Faculty, and more than that, because the institute I chose had the following structure in it:

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This is the (then) non-functional glass house of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences. It did look rivettingly captivating on that day, when I was passing the institute on my red Hercules bicycle. It stayed in my mind long and strong enough to affect my decision of choosing the place for my studies. It was a good decision. I met with some very bright minds: many of them from Bihar, but some from other parts of India too. It was a common joke those days, to call our university Bihar Hindu University. There were few Banarsi students in our batch too. Most of them had reached there through their supernumerary or Central Hindu School quota. Even fewer were students from Maths stream. Mihir, Ashutosh and Debashish were from the Maths stream, and the last two from Banaras too. My university years were the best years of my life. No, it’s neither due to nostalgia nor due to my loyalty to the good old days that I say so. It’s the truth.

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The Institute of Agricultural Sciences is located very strategically. The Central Library, Birla Temple and The Central Office are on its three sides. Right in front of the main entrance to our institute is the Central Library of BHU. To the right of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences is the Central Office. We, the students of the pre-millennial decade, spent a lot of time around the institute too. There was a gym and the amphitheatre ground for those who wanted physical fitness. There was the library for those who wanted to study. Strangely enough, the same place was also popular among those who did not want to study at all. And then, there were tea and samosa stalls that mushroomed everywhere there was a possibility of students assembling. Our favourite were the tea stalls on one side of the temple (afternoons) and the tea stall near the singh dwar on one side of the statue of Mahamana (evening).

To the left side of these buildings is the famous Birla temple. It used to take around twelve minutes at full speed to reach Birla Temple from my place on my bicycle. The temple, as can be seen in the image below, is huge and splendid. On all the sides of the temple compound there are mango or guava orchards. Across the temple used to be our favourite path to reach the hostel of our institute, SRK Hostel. We used to carry our bicycles across, entering from the main gate and taking the narrow back door to exit.

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(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh)

For me, the temple and the library, along with many parts of the university campus, were extensions of my house. I used to spend a large part of my day in the campus and used to feel safe and secure there. More than that, I used to feel at home. The way I never felt anywhere after entering my professional life, in any place. Entering the singh dwar (main gate) of the university from the city was like entering another world. The  state, environs and traffic congestion on the road leading to the university make the contrast even sharper. The moment one enters (in season) the flame of the forest presents a spectacle that can be better understood by actually seeing.

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(Photo: Mr. Rishi Vohra)

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(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh) 

As my posts keep touching the central issue of the change in the city (urballaghology), The huge structure dominating the background of the singh dwar must be focussed upon (Dr. Singh has done half the work for you already). In our student decade, the structure that dominated the scene used to be the aptly called singh dwar. With time, the whole Lanka-Naria neighbourhood had some sort of building boom and the whole area was changed beyond recognition. No, I’ve used the hackneyed italicized and bold phrase purposefully. I mean it without any attempt at exaggeration. I know, change can’t be fought against. But this change has made ugly and puny of what used to be majestic: the dominating and central structure of the yester-years, the singh dwar. My friend Rishi thinks and feels the same about this particular change.

I do remember having observed a similar experience in another context. My cousins had come to my paternal house after around a decade and half. We had spent our childhood playing on the rooftop, chabutaras and verandahs of the house. My father stayed in the house and the others all left. So, it was a reunion after a long time. We entered the house, and the one nearer my age exclaimed “Everything has shrunk! I don’t remember this house’s being so small. The verandah and the roof used to be more spacious when we were small!” It was a sort of anti-climax for the speaker, and, in a way for the listeners too. It’s not a pleasant experience seeing one feel cheated. It becomes even more painful when one is cheated out of one’s home. It’s scary.

My university has changed a lot. Just like my city, the reasons are all related to the security. Today, there are barricades all around the temple. No one can enter the temple with their bicycles, as we used to, there is a well demarcated parking area, at around 100 metre radius from the entrance of the temple. the various grounds that we used to cross on our bicycles freely have fences. The garden in our institute where I had discovered the most beautiful flower I have seen till date: passion flower:

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(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Passion_flower_2r.jpg)

I used to reach my institute at around seven thirty on the days of exam. The place where I used to go for revision, because I knew that nobody would come there to disturb me, was that garden. I used to sit there revising for around an hour. My only companions used to be the peacocks that used to roam freely there. There also used to be an mulberry tree there. it used to bear fruits regularly and, I think adequately for those who needed them, as I never saw all the fruits plucked. On one of my returns to my university, I went to meet my old friend, the garden. There was no garden to be seen. The whole garden area was converted into a car parking for the institution. I am not good at putting my emotions on paper with sufficient objective correlatives. So, you can’t feel the way I did back then. Nostalgia has a modicum of hope in it. It is the remote and faint possibility of being able to revisit the past places/people that makes the pain of nostalgia sweet and bearable. When those places/people are no more, nostalgia becomes some sort of stinking-bitter-toxic fruit.

No, the idyllic past does not return, but I was there when my university used to be beautiful, safe and open. I can never feel easy, having lived that past, with the fact that they have murdered my beautiful past and pulverized even the remains to feed them to the dogs of change.

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