Chandigarh’s Sector 14: A long way from Lahore

Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | ByArshdeep Arshi
Jul 11, 2018 12:21 PM IST

Almost destroyed by Partition, Panjab University has rebuilt itself, brick by brick. Today it’s a campus town that continues to evolve, secure in its glorious past and with an eye on a shining future

It’s a campus that traces its roots to Lahore. Indian Punjab not only lost its capital to Partition, but also the University of Punjab. Eager to fill this vacuum, Panjab University was established on October 1, 1947 through an ordinance issued by the Central Government on September 27.

The Gandhi Bhawan, which houses the Department of Gandhian Studies, is one of the many interesting buildings at PU that use natural light.(Sanjeev Sharma/HT)
The Gandhi Bhawan, which houses the Department of Gandhian Studies, is one of the many interesting buildings at PU that use natural light.(Sanjeev Sharma/HT)

The working of the university was entrusted to a provisional nine-member Syndicate and Justice Teja Singh was appointed functionary vice chancellor. It was later that GC Chatterji was appointed the first full time V-C, but his term was also very short. It was in Dewan Anand Kumar that PU got its first long-term V-C who served for eight years beginning 1949.

It wasn’t a smooth journey. Till 1956, the teaching departments were scattered across Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and even Delhi, while the library was at Simla. It was only between 1958 and 1960 that all the departments moved to the newly-minted Chandigarh under the aegis of V-C Prof AC Joshi. Today the library bears his name.

This move was largely due to chief engineer PL Verma, who offered a full sector at a concessional rate for this purpose, and even persuaded Punjab government to allow architect Jugal Chowdhary to design the varsity and Agya Ram to construct the buildings.

“Agya Ram went on to become the first Executive Engineer (ExEn) of PU on whose name the present construction office stands,” recounts RK Rai, executive engineer. “The first buildings to come up were the Chemical Engineering and Technology Department, and the Registrar’s office.”

In 1959, architect Bhanu Mathur, who had worked with the Swiss-French architect Pierre Jeanneret, also started working on PU. Jeanneret left an indelible mark on the campus by designing the Gandhi Bhawan, AC Joshi library, administrative building, some hostels and even some departments in collaboration with Bhanu Mathur.

A little town

A self-sufficient campus, PU also started a school. “At that time, it was till Class 5,” tells librarian Rashmi Yadav, who studied there when her father got a job in the library in 1961. Yadav did her MA in Psychology followed by MA in Library Science and PhD in PU before joining as assistant librarian in 1979. She remembers how the student leaders of her time used to be great orators. And how the food was both delicious and inexpensive. “We used to buy seven pooris with chana for 1 rupee from Punjab Sweets.”

Incidentally, Punjab Sweets is one of the oldest shops in the PU market. Swarnjit Singh, the owner, tells how a friend of his father (Bihari Lal Bhatia) persuaded him to come here. “We have our sweetmeat shops in Amritsar and our extended family still runs the business there but we came here in 1956 when I was 14-15 year old. There was nothing but a few buildings here.”

“There were no concrete shops. My father refused to work in a mud shop, so we were given two quarters in A block to work in, and a quarter for our stay. That is how the market was started,” he tells.

“Jauhar had a grocery shop, Hari Ram sold ice and Ram Murti had a shopping cart on which he sold paan and cigarettes. The university even bought furniture for some of the shopkeepers to set them up.”

Atma Ram and Sons also came here in the early 1960s. Karan Puri, the present owner, says they were invited here from Delhi.

“It was a book shop which looked like a library. We had sections for every subject. Now with the interest in reading on the decline, we have changed it into a book-cum-gift shop. However, diehards like Prof Jitendra Mohan visit the shop regularly. There are others who come to buy cards for their grandkids living abroad,” he tells.

“The then V-C, Dewan Anand Kumar, had a wooden car (like a buggy) and I used to get rides in it,” he shares.

An artist’s world

Mahendra Kumar, a professor (retd) in the Department of Indian Theatre, remembers every moment spent with eminent Punjabi thespian Balwant Gargi on whose name the Open Air Theatre stands. “He was brought to PU by then V-C Suraj Bhan as a visiting faculty for five years in 1968. There was no department as such at that time. Gargi was given a W-11 house, and he found his actors, including me, from different departments.”

He adds, “It was Gargi saab who brought the sensibility of world theatre to Chandigarh. MF Hussain, Satish Gujral, Zohra Sehgal, BV Karanth, E Alkazi, RG Bajaj, MK Raina, V Ramamurthy, Srilata Swaminathan were among those who visited him.”

Recalling another incident, he said, “He once reprimanded a boy who was whistling in the department saying that Mahendra is working and he shouldn’t disturb me. When the boy said I wasn’t doing anything, Gargi said it means I am thinking. He used to say ‘An artist cannot sit idle’.”

It was in 1969 that the well-established short-story writer, now 88, Prof Virender Mehdiratta first joined PU as a lecturer. A student of Government College, Lahore, in 1946, he completed his PhD here.

Remembering his PU days, he tells, “Those days professors too used to come on cycles. When I came to the university, I started writing plays on the suggestion of a friend. Prof Indernath Madan even introduced a paper in the syllabus ‘Natak aur Rangmanch’.”

He recounted how a student actor fond of being clicked stood still for a photograph in the middle of a play. “Before continuing with his dialogues, he said ‘thank you’ to the photographer. Such were the days!”

Mehdiratta recalled how even students of Department of Indian Theatre used to come and sit in the last rows of the class when he taught Mohan Rakesh’s play, ‘Ashadh Ka Ek Din’.

Election time

Professor Indu Banga remembers the 1970s when the departments used to hold elections for the president’s post. “Students Federation of India (SFI) had quite a foothold at the time though I wasn’t its member. When I took part in elections, everybody said how can a girl be a president, but eventually I was supported by many of the boys and I won,” smiles Banga.

Prof Amrik S Ahluwalia, who joined PU in 1981, says there were only two parties -- SOPU and PUSU. “The elections had nearly the same agenda, but there was no dearth of hostels at that time,” he says.

Rewarding research

PU has remained one of the top universities in the field of research, especially in sciences. Four professors and 10 students from Department of Physics participated in the research related to the existence of God particle (Higgs particle) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. The department also has its own cyclotron for exploring nuclear physics. Research is a forte of the University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (UIPS) as well.

Hall of Fame

In those halcyon days, big names in the field of literature, arts and sciences used to teach here.

Author and critic Mulk Raj Anand taught here from 1962 to 1965 when he worked to set up the Department of Fine Arts and Design, a museum, and a literary research centre under Tagore professorship.

Prof BM Anand and Dr Yash Pal are remembered fondly by students of science, while Prof BN Goswamy continues to command a cult following in arts. And who doesn’t know former Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who used to teach economics on the campus.

The present Vice-Chancellor, Arun K Grover, has now started celebrating PU’s foundation day to relive its grand past and get inspired for the future.

‘When PU had part-time V-Cs’

Former vice-chancellor professor RP Bambah, 92, who joined the PU Department of Mathematics as a reader in 1952, has seen the university evolve from a time when it was housed in a borrowed accommodation to the time it stepped into a spanking new campus in Chandigarh.

A mathematician in number theory and discrete geometry, Bambah remembers, “The university used to work in a completely different manner. It was only an examining body and the teaching happened in the colleges affiliated to it.”

Prof Bambah joined PU at Hoshiarpur in 1952.
Prof Bambah joined PU at Hoshiarpur in 1952.

“The V-Cs used to be from among judges and other such officials, they were like part-time officers of the university. The main work was in the hands of the Registrar. The house where the V-C currently lives used to be the Registrar’s house and the G-Block houses, which are currently inhabited by teachers, used to be for Deputy Registrars,” recounts the professor, who remained the V-C from 1985 to 1991.

“As the teaching departments came to the campus, the V-C’s role became bigger. Now it is not one university but two – one which does teaching and the one which conducts examinations in colleges,” he says.

Prof Bambah remembered the good old days when his teacher Prof Gopal Chowla used to entice him into competing by coming up with equations and formulas, saying, “I can prove this, can you?”

“It was a time when teachers were mentors to students, they regularly met them and had lunch or tea together. We had a group called TkT (Tea – Cup – Talk) at Hoshiarpur. Students and professors had discussions over tea. This is what the culture of education should be,” recounts Bambah, who joined PU when it was at Hoshiarpur.

“PU was developed by hiring people who had excelled in their fields. The university had the freedom to appoint people, to take risks. Now a professor’s proficiency is judged by the number of articles in a research journal and other things. Universities should have enough courage to get excellent academics on campus to create potential leaders of thought from among the students,” he concludes.

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