MAHARAJA’S COLLEGE has nourished generations of brilliant minds. It is a living witness to the city’s history

If Maharaja’s College were a novel it would be a bildungsroman - one that would tell the coming of age story of many a boy and girl, of how they left its gates as men and women. Ideology found believers, poets found verse, stories found tellers…it is said some even found love. The many colours of life painted its vibrant, pulsating campus. Alma Mater, loosely translated, is nourishing mother. And the who’s who of Kerala’s socio-cultural and political fields in the past and present claim Maharaja’s College as alma mater.

What started out, in 1845, as the English Elementary School became Ernakulam College before becoming Maharaja’s College (a first grade college) in 1925, its golden jubilee year. Madrasil Theepetta Thampuran (Rama Varma), the Maharaja of the erstwhile Cochin State, was the chief guest for the jubilee celebrations. It had been decided to rename the college thus in honour of the Maharaja as part of the celebrations.

The year was important in the history of the college. It was in that year the college, according to journalist Ravi Kuttikad’s tribute to his alma mater Maharajasinu Pranayapoorvam, celebrated its first college day. The Old Boy’s Association, which later became the Old Students Association, too was formed during the celebrations. A few years earlier, in October 1918, the college had brought out its first college magazine.

The photograph taken during the golden jubilee celebrations shows a spruced up Ernakulam College geared up for the royal visit and a new identity. It is said that a Shakespeare play was staged on the occasion.

Once upon a time the College looked over a beach, says V. N. Venugopal, city historian and former student of the college. What we know as the Foreshore Road developed as a full-fledged road in the late 1920s. Sometime in the early 30s Irwin Park, which is today Subhash Park, was built to commemorate Lord Irwin’s visit. “The college was fenced in by a half-wall. It had only a small frontage even then. There used to be a rain gauge in front of the college which was later moved to another part of the college,” Venugopal says. K.M. Roy, journalist, who studied in the college in the mid-50s, has no recollection of having seen such an apparatus. Nor did it have the foliage it has today; the campus appears bald, devoid of vegetation as if wiped clean.

The stretch from the old High Court to the shipyard in Thevara was peopled by “fisher folk and nomads, according to writings of former principals of the college. This is the sight that greeted them as they came to the college on open barges from Mattancherry,” Kuttikad says.

The land on which the college is built used to be a swamp. If imagining the sight of the paraphernalia of fishermen’s lives is difficult, then try visualising a field full of children playing football on what is now the very busy Foreshore Road. The college was built in the style of buildings in Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The two main buildings are named after the first and second headmasters respectively of the English Elementary School (which later became the College), A. F. Sealy and D.M. Cruickshank.

“The presence of teachers such as Madhukar Rao, Sanu Master, Shantaram Rao and ONV, to name very few, made the campus vibrant. There was a close relationship between teachers and students,” Roy says. He calls his time in the college the golden days of the student activism, one that went hand-in-hand with discipline.

“It never descended to hooliganism. You could hear a pin drop in college after 10 a.m. Attendance was of utmost importance. There used to be a peon, Kunjappan, whom we were all scared of.” Kunjappan in his uniform (as was mandatory for peons) used to “threaten us if he saw anyone loitering about. He was well-loved by us,” Roy says.

Maharaja’s College has always been the hotbed of student politics. Roy calls it the ‘breeding ground of politics’ as he recounts the first strike by student bodies such as Vidyarthi Congress, that later became Kerala Students Union and the Independent Students Organisation against the State’s first Communist government in 1957.

“It was non-political. The ferry service, run by S. Koder, from Mattancherry to Ernakulam charged a nominal amount from students. When the service was affiliated to the State Transport Corporation it was hiked. This led to an altercation between a staffer and a couple of students from the college and resulted in the strike. There was picketing, lathi charge and even tear gas shells were burst. People thought gunshots were being fired. Students from the other colleges such as St. Albert’s and the Law College too got involved.”

New courses were added and new buildings constructed. The college has grown, in numbers and reputation too; its students spread their wings far and wide and scale higher heights. Maharaja’s College is more than just a college, “it is a feeling, an emotion,” as a former student puts it.