Sensing history’s vibrations

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Nov 2017 11:38:24



Vijay Phanshikar,

Standing at the Maharajbagh Square in any uncrowded morning can transport one into an altogether different zone. If one is sensitive to silent sounds, then one feels tremendous academic and intellectual vibrations that the place generates most naturally, thanks to the presence of a cluster of iconic buildings that symbolised the best in education in those days when they were planned and created those many decades spanning nearly a century. They also represented some of the best architectural creations ever.

Let us see the whole scene in our mind:Standing smack in the centre of the square, one is surrounded by six great buildings -- five of them coloured red and one off-white. Face the west and to one’s left is the beautifully-architectured east-facing building of the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute (VJTI) that houses the administrative block of the Agriculture College, now a part of the Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth. Behind the VJTI is the equally well-designed but much smaller off-white building of the hostel of Agriculture College, tucked away in trees. Across the street from these two buildings is the red coloured academic block of the college.

Those premises now boast of a very well made statue of the
legendary Dr. Panjabrao Deshmukh who was an educational god to countless thousands of young people in Central India those days. And across the street from the academic block of the agriculture college is a line of three red buildings -- the Institute of Science at the northern end, and the Nagpur University Administrative Block at the southern end. In the centre is the elegant Convocation Hall of Nagpur University.

Very few places in Nagpur are as elegant as this cluster of buildings -- architecturally and historically. Now also, on a silent, uncrowded morning, one can feel the intellectual vibrations of this cluster. One can also sense how a big part of Central India’s academic history got shaped there -- in those buildings. One feels humbled and even honoured standing there -- humbled because of the excellence those buildings represent even now, and honoured because of
being a part of the ambience of historic importance.

Getting admission to the college and to be able to attend classes in the red building symbolising whatever was classic in architecture was considered height of academic performance. The kids who went to that college were, by far, the best in town and carried an air of superiority about them. Young people in other colleges carried a little pinch of
jealousy about those kids. For, they attended classes in the esteemed institution which was then called The Government Science College.

Now known as The Institute of Science, the place still has almost more or less the same aura, the same importance. Of course, things have changed and style of college
education, its form as well as content, has changed. Yet, those who know carry a sense of respect for the Institute of Science. For, they realise that any institution with such a
history, with such quality of its teaching, with high quality
laboratories and equally good quality library always is a place that often makes the difference.

Even today, the Institute of Science is known for its contribution to research on bats, thanks to some of the professors who taught in those haloed halls. Even today, the Institute is known for its contribution to research in several other subjects from the field of sciences. Now also, one meets hundreds of high achieving academics and scientists who passed through the portals of this institution. And the speciality of the Institute of Science was not just in academics, but its students also did very well in sports and cultural activities. The Institute’s cricket team often was known for being one of the best in the region.

If such is the story of the Institute of Science, equally great is the story of the Agriculture College. This place has given the country some of the best scientists and researchers in
agriculture and related areas. Literally thousands of students of this institution have occupied in later years important positions in the country’s agricultural research
eco-system. Most of them came from far-flung villages of Vidarbha, got admitted to the college and made a tremendous sense out of their lives, thankful to Dr. Panjabrao Deshmukh who acted as their mentor.

Many of those young men worked shoulder-to-shoulder with men of eminence like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and ensured the success of India’s Green Revolution. Had those young men not been there, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) would not have assumed iconic proportions.

And if the Institute of Science and the College of Agriculture made signal contribution to history, the Nagpur University, too, did not lag behind. In those days say seventy years ago, the Nagpur University was known for its academic excellence, having given to the nation many men and women with legendary capabilities. Many Vice Chancellors of this university -- now called the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University (RTMNU) -- were personages of international fame. True, the university did fall on some very bad days, but soon emerged from that dark period.

When this scenario was described to the eminent jurist Mr. Nani Palkhiwala when he came to deliver his famous ‘We the people’ lecture at the Convocation Grounds, he exclaimed, “My God, this is certainly a great place! Now I realise why I felt some vibrations I had never sensed before as our car entered the area.”

Knowing the very proper and very sensitive and very sensible Nani Palkhiwala, one can certainly assert, he was not faking the emotion. For, even to others, this emotion can be available today.