In a phase that has been called Orientalist, in the 1780s and 1790s, the British set up a madrasa in then Calcutta and a Sanskrit college in Varanasi. This was done with the view of propagating western values through Indian education. However, these were soon found to be ineffective.
In the beginning
By the beginning of the 19th century, a demand was created such that western education seemed more desirable than Indian subjects. However, during this period, English education was by and large unavailable to the common people in Bengal. As a measure to bring about modern education within reach of more number of people, a group of enlightened Indians and Englishmen, including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Raja Radhakanta Deb, David Hare, Justice Sir Edward Hyde East and others, helped establish an institute in Kolkata in 1817 called Hindu College (then spelled ‘Hindoo’).
Soon after, however, the British agenda for the Anglicisation of Indian education took root. Thomas Macaulay came out with his now infamous Minute on Indian Education in 1835, seeking a creation of a whole new class of people Indian in body and English in mind. Twenty years later, in 1855, British administrators appropriated what was the early native venture in education: Hindu College became Presidency College and became among the first few centres of English education in India.
The college still remains among the top-most in terms of education. As recognition of its excellence in standards, it was decided to upgrade it to the status of a full university, and on July 7, 2010, was rechristened as Presidency University.
Galaxy of stars
The pioneering discoveries of Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray in physics, plant physiology and chemistry, respectively, were made in the laboratories of the college. Teaching of both liberal arts and empirical sciences acquired true excellence in the nineteenth century and the tradition continued even after independence. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Anandaram Barooah, students of the college, enriched Bengali and Assamese literature. SN Bose, MN Saha, PC Mahalanobish, Amal Kumar Raychaudhuri, Shyamal Sengupta, Ashoke Sen made world-class contributions in the field of basic science. Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakraborty made contributions to economic theory in the decades after independence. These names are merely illustrative, for the alumni of the college have distinguished themselves both nationally and internationally in various fields.
Alumni Association events this year
This year the annual alumni meet of the erstwhile Presidency College will revisit the age-old theme of ‘ghoti versus bangal’. Held onboard a launch on the Hooghly, this year’s party on February 1 promises a Sunday full of fun and food.
As things stand now, the ghoti side will be led by barrister Jayanta Mitra, advocate general of the state. Mitra will be assisted by Anindya Mitra, another barrister alumnus and former advocate general. Thespians Arun Mukhopadhyay and Bibhas Chakraborty may also join them.
The captains of the ‘bangal’ side are yet to be confirmed, but historian and educationist Bharati Ray and writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen are likely candidates.
“The ‘ghoti-bangal’ debate has been a traditionally favourite one at Presidency and you will see how hilarious and yet informative the arguments can be,” said Jayanta Mitra.
The alumni association has instituted two gold medals this year, which were given to the best arts and science undergraduate students on January 20.
Presidency has also introduced French and German as optional subjects from the current semester to give its graduates an edge in an increasingly globalised world. Students often want to work and visit these countries.