Suman K. Sharma
Is there anything common between Princess Phillippa of Hainault, the Black Prince of England and the government science college at Jammu that is named after Mahatma Gandhi? Yes, there is.
It is a complicated story spanning seven centuries. In the 14th century, King Edward III of England married Princess Phillippa of Hainault. Their eldest son became famous as the ‘Black Prince’ and he was the first of the royals to have been invested with the title and privileges of the Prince of Wales. When it came to designing his personal badge, the Black Prince chose a device of three sliver-white ostrich feathers held in a golden coronet. The inspiration came from the term ‘ostrevent’ (autruche in French and ostrich in English) which the Hainault counts from his maternal side used for their eldest sons. Now fast forward to the year 1905. George Frederick Ernest Albert, then Prince of Wales who later went on to become King George V, Emperor of India, came to our state and it was to commemorate the royal visit that a college was established in Jammu. The institution adopted the princely badge of three ostrich feathers in a coronet. Along with the insignia came its arcane motto ‘Iche Dien’. Does it all sound outlandish? We will come to it later.
The Prince of Wales College was run for a few initial years from the Ajaib Ghar (the museum building which now lies within the periphery of the Civil Secretariat) before it was shifted to its permanent location on the Canal Road on 18 September 1912. The sprawling campus of 50 acres had everything that a premier educational institution could look for – airy lecture rooms, labs, a well stocked library, hostels and vast play grounds. The college is rightly proud of its Geological Museum which can vie with any of its kind in this part of the country.
During its journey of over hundred years the institution has seen many twists and turns. Started off with intermediate classes (then called ‘Fellow of Arts-F.A./Sciences-F. Sc.’) in English, Mathematics, Chemistry, History, Persian, Sanskrit and Philosophy, it went on to add Geography and English at graduate level by 1910. The 1930s saw the college progressing by leaps and bounds with the start of post-graduate courses in Geography, Economics and Mathematics in 1930. The following year it became a full-fledged co-educational institution, encouraging Jammu women to go for higher learning. Even after the foundation of a women-exclusive college in 1944 – the Maharani Mahila College at Kacchi Chhawani – women-students continued to be admitted in the Prince of Wales College till 1966. Another major change took place in 1969, when the ‘Arts Block’ of the college came to be shifted to the newly established ‘Maulana Azad Memorial College’, which is located across the Tawi Bridge on the Railway Station Road. The older college, popularly known as the ‘Science College’ runs as many as twelve under-graduate and post-graduate courses ranging from English, to Physics-Chemistry-Mathematics (PCM), the ‘medical combination’ adding Bio-sciences, Bio-technology, Geography, Geology, Physical Education, Electronics and Computer Applications.
It can be said without any hyperbole that nearly all the Jammu- grandfathers today who went to college during their youth still cherish the memories of their years at the ‘P.O.W’ College. The year was 1969 and the college principal was S.M. Iqbal, who later went on to become Director of Education, Jammu. Prof Iqbal’s reputation was as formidable as was his girth. Students took pains to avoid him, though he was known to go out of his way to help those who approached him in the hour of need. Then there was the tall and handsome Prof Sahni, who taught English. Inordinately fond of his elocution, he wanted his students also to speak like him. One day, the good professor asked a pre-University student from Digiana to recite the poem ‘Tha Ripa’ from the book. The poor fellow was hard put to locate the poem as the professor stood looking down upon him. It was much later that the class learnt that Professor Sahab was alluding to William Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’. Prof Sahni, who was also in-charge of the college N.C.C., had this instruction to give to the boys going on a training camp at Jhajjar Kotli: ‘Don’t just be gorging yourselves on piles of phulkas and katoras of dal in the langar; you carry the prestige of this august institution with you wherever you go, so conduct yourself properly in the camp.” Another memory that one carries is of the scrumptious canteen samosas. The only problem was their size. One took four and wanted to have four more.
The college has given the land some of the most illustrious personages. Mangat Ram Sharma, the former Deputy Chief Minister of the state studied here during the years 1948-52. General Vij, former Chief of the Army Staff was a student of the college in 1958. Pundit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the world-renowned santoor maestro, too is an alumnus of the college. Qudrat Ullah Shahab, who rose to the position of Chief Secretary of Pakistan was on its rolls during 1935-39. Another of the college alumni is Simranjit Singh of the Indian Administrative Service.
The college goes on doing well, keeping pace with the changing times. The Principal, suave Dr Satinder Singh, who looks young for his 54 years, holds a doctoral degree in Marketing. A marketing expert heading a science college! Don’t be surprised if you come across smart looking girls in business suits and boys in their formals. No, they are not executives of any MNC, but students of BCA classes. The dress-code is meant to groom them for the world of business.
Gone are the days when ‘Medical’ subjects used to be the first choice of the brighter lot. The cut-off percentages for B.C.A. and Bio-technology are much higher than those for the traditional subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Botany and Zoology et cetera. There has been on-campus recruitment by IBM, Infosys and Wipro. No wonder that students from all over the Jammu province are eager to secure admission in this college.
But back to the identity of the Science College of Jammu. At the dawn of the independence its name was changed to Government Gandhi Memorial Science College. The change in moniker seems to have been half-hearted. Look at its web-site. The tag of ‘Prince of Wales’ is still there, albeit with an apologetic ‘erstwhile’. Look at the college magazine, The Tawi. It proudly displays the badge of Prince of Wales, with the motto ‘Ich Dien’. What does the motto mean after all? There is nothing uplifting or inspiring about it, rest assured. ‘Ich Dien’ is a contraction of the German phrase ‘Ich diene’, which means ‘I serve’. Are we so short of imagination that we cannot come up with a fitting motto for an institution that has nurtured generation after generation of our scholars? There is more to it. The P.O.W. badge has been rejected as a symbol of British monarchy by nationalists of Wales itself. Our own Rashtriya Indian Military Academy – which was earlier known as the ‘Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College’ – has not only dropped ‘Prince of Wales’ altogether from its name (mark also the change from ‘Royal’ to ‘Rashtriya’), but it has also given itself a new motto, ‘Bal Vivek’ – Strength-Conscience. And who can be more finicky in matters of tradition and heritage than military hats?
Are the authorities listening?
Suman K. Sharma