The moniker has changed now - only the clock tower still bears the name - Presidency College. Now a university, the campus had a new lick of paint last I visited (in 2012) and an emblem proclaiming "excellence since 1817" (something that the college never felt the need for in the 193 years from 1817 to 2010).
In the fall of 1997, when I joined the department of Political Science as an undergrad - you could be ultra-left, support an armed revolution or be indifferent to politics,but you could not be from a main stream political party - that seemed to be the mantra for student politics.
The college was politically charged, we gherao-ed teachers, principals, blocked College Street (the main thoroughfare right in front of the college) but never took politics very seriously. College was as it should be - emotionally charged, idealistic, filled with fun and frolic.
Yes there were student elections, intense ones at that. But the main participants were amateur politicians and by that, I mean, students whose politics stayed inside the college. Most of them passed out and went on to pursue careers of their choice - from banking to film-making.
That seems to have changed. Student politics is now serious, big business - the campuses in Bengal the litmus test for political clout and muscle.
This was hammered home by a friend from college last night. He seemed equally distraught at the new depths the political discourse had sunk to in the college and indeed, the state. "They should have never changed the name. This wouldn't have happened in Presidency College," he said wistfully. "Imagine if this had happened in St Stephens'... you would have been almost asking the PM to quit, wouldn't you?"
I was reminded of what my teacher had once told me after I was found inebriated on campus. Marched to attend a two-hour special class in lieu of the lecture I'd missed, I was reminded by my professor, Prasanta Ray - this college predates the university system in India. He was an alumni and had taught for over two decades in the college - that sense of pride was unmistakable. And the message loud and clear - this doesn't happen here.
I also remembered how another professor had pointed out something I'd missed for my first two years in college. As you enter the precincts of Presidency College there is a tablet embedded on the guardroom's wall, to the left of the main entrance. It is in memory of Ram Eqbal Singh, the durwan who lost his life while defending the college and its students during communal riots in 1926.
There are perhaps no durwans now, at least not of Ram Eqbal's mettle. Students and faculty claim the police at the gates of the college were mute spectators to the mayhem.
So as students of Presidency University march on the streets of Kolkata in protest and find themselves on camera across national television, they need to question their own sense of history, for in it will not only be the anguish at what's happening , but also the courage to stand up for what they must believe in...
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