down memory lane History & Culture

Delhi’s IP College's grand past

Alipore House was originally the residence-cum-office of the Commander-in-Chief of the British-Indian Army. In 1932, Indraprastha College for Women moved into the colonial-style building designed by George Wood in the early decades of the 20th century. It shifted there from Chandrawali House in the Civil Lines.

Indraprastha (IP) College had started in Chhipiwara, behind the Jama Masjid in the haveli gifted by Rai Balkrishan Das in 1904 for the Indraprastha Girls’ School. In September 2015, Dr. Romila Thapar of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), inaugurated the college archives and museum.

They are the repository of the history of the college, which started with just five students in 1924. In 1934-35 the number had risen to 71, thanks to the efforts of the Australian educationalist and theosophist, Leonara G’meiner, who was the first principal of the school and college right from 1904 to her retirement in 1935.

It was Lala Jugal Kishore, who was instrumental in acquiring the services of G’meiner. Later his grandson, Narain Prasad, was the manager of the school and college upto his death in February 2016. The principal, Babli Moitra Saraf, strived for years to create the archives and museum.

One can see in the archives hoary pictures of Annie Besant, Jawaharlal Nehru and other famous leaders, who visited Alipore House from time to time and recorded their memorable impressions of the first women’s college of the Delhi University. Interestingly, one of the students was Zohra Ansari, daughter of the noted freedom fighter Dr. M. A. Ansari. Among other Muslim girls, who gave up purdah and joined the college was Begum Musharraf, mother of the former Pakistan President. Later, Qurratullain Hailder, the Urdu litterateur and novelist, also studied there briefly.

Among the noted visitors in more recent years was Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who was the guest speaker at the Fourth Annual Public Lecture on 13 December, 2007. No wonder a visit to the college is a rewarding experience. It is made all the more vivid while sitting in the verandah facing an enchanting garden that still breathes of the halcyon days of Alipore House.

However that pleasure is denied to the visitor in other historic houses which have tumbled down like Jack and Jill of the nursery rhyme. Linked to Alipore House is the primary girls’ school in Patni Mal-ki-haveli, a landmark in Naiwara, which now houses Suraj Kanya Shikshalaya.

The first Suraj Kanya presumably was Surajmukhi, Prithviraj Chauhan’s daughter, for whom the first storey of the Qutub Minar (later built upon by Qutubuddin Aibak and Iltutmish) is believed to have been erected so that she could see the Yamuna at dawn and worship the sun. Now the 350-odd girls studying in this middle school are all considered “Surya Kanyas” and lavished with such love and affection that they never think of leaving it till passing out.

Patni Mal was a wealthy merchant of Chandni Chowk, whose two-storied, spacious mansion was later handed over to nearby Indraprastha Girls’ School in 1924 by Lala Jagan Nath for running its primary section from where the foundation was laid for Indraprastha Girls’ College before it moved to Alipora House. The school, reached through Chawari Bazar Chowk via Nai Sarak and Chipiwara, still retains its lovely old-world charm, like the Rajasthani-style balcony and canopy above the main entrance in marble, with intricate designs, pillared rooms and arched verandahs.

Now after renovation it is a mixture of the old and new. The courtyard, where once ladies in purdah danced and swung on rope jhoolas at the Teej festivals or celebrated Janmasthami, Diwali (with a 100 earthen lamps) and Holi (when rainbow colours blotted out even the sunlight), is now the place where the students assemble in the morning to welcome the new day with a song, before entering class.

And what unique classrooms they have: arched with exquisite dallan-type enclosures that breathe of the 19th century. In one of them was a well, a deep one, from which water was drawn before Delhi got its piped water supply. The cool water of the well was a blessing in the summer months, when there were no refrigerators. In the aftermath of the war in 1857, when a lot of wells in the city had been either poisoned or had corpses of the slain dumped into them, such mansions as this haveli were a real oasis for the thirsty as the wells were hidden inside the living rooms.

Now since the wells have lost their utility, the one in an ante-room of the senior classes has been closed, says the principal. She leads me through the classrooms and up a flight of stairs to the roof where too classes are held in newly-built rooms, with a wire mesh to keep out monkeys, which are a real menace. Before the school came to be housed here, there were probably kaua-haknis (women who chased away crows) and men employed to scare monkeys.

Standing on the balcony, one imagines the time when husbands, hiding behind their big-Rajasthani-skirted wives, watched the Persian soldiers looking for human fodder for their swords, which were drawn out when the huge one of Nadir Shah was unsheathed at Sonheri Masjid, near the erstwhile Kotwali, opposite the Fountain in 1739.

“So long as my sword is out of its scabbard, kill everyone you come across”, were the invader’s words as his soldiers rampaged through Chandni Chowk and entered its gullies. Now what one sees is a long queue of parents waiting for school to give over so that they could escort their children back home in the nearby or far away kuchas.

As one descends from the balcony through a narrow staircase that also breathes of old times, one cannot shake off the feeling that after seeing the bloodbaths of the 1739 invasion and the 1857 war, the inmates of this haveli must have hurriedly descended through it to take refuge from the killers who had been let loose in the city. Now, of course, it’s the girls who run down this staircase to rush into the arms of their waiting parents.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 3:08:32 AM |

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