City's oldest college finds new home
Old Josephites will sigh remembering their days cycling to the lovely arched and woody college premises on Residency Road. However, the imposing stone structure has been declared unsafe, and the college now has a new location.
The hostel block of the college.
THE OLDEST college in Bangalore, the St. Joseph's, has begun a new phase in its career, in a new home, and a new location.
Many might question the statement that it is the oldest college. It is perhaps the oldest surviving college. The Central College was started in 1875 (it was opened as a school in 1858), seven years before St. Joseph's College came to existence. Bangalore University has retained the Central College campus and has closed down the institution which was the premier science college of Karnataka. Thus, St. Joseph's College becomes the oldest.
For someone who keeps track of Bangalore's changing scenario, will at once realise that in the case of St. Joseph's the relocation is from one crowded road to another, and that too a narrower one. It is a problem faced by most old educational institutions which are finding themselves in uncongenial environs. This correspondent recalls a speech delivered at the University Law College many years ago by that cerebral former chief justice of the Mysore High Court, the late A.R. Somanatha Iyer, who had said that the college could not have had a worse location, the junction of the crowded Kempegowda Road and the Palace Road. Since then urban blight has overwhelmed the place.
The main culprit being the KSRTC which turned the Palace Road, the serene avenue it was, into a second Kalasipalya running its Doddaballapur bound buses from there.
However, in the case of St. Joseph's, it was neither the heavy traffic nor the crowd of Residency Road which precipitated the relocation. Its main block, the venerable 19th Century building in stone came to be declared unsafe, and the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, who are running the institution since 1939, had to consider a new home. Fortunately they had the college's hostel ground at the nearby Lalbagh Road-Langford Road junction, for building the new campus. But the many lovers of sports regret that a playground had to make way for the new building. Two decades ago, the management of the St. Joseph's group of institutions had utilised a part of another playground they had owned on the Mahatma Gandhi Road (Primrose Road junction) for a commercial building.
Though it is exciting to travel down the alley of memory and write about the boys and the relatively small number of girls who spent their best years on the old campus, one cannot dismiss the fact that even revisiting is an ordeal. For some years now, one could not enter the St. Joseph's College from the Asirvatham Circle side. To cope with the increased traffic, the police first erected a median and followed it with railings in the "Berlin Wall" style. The college boys who came on bicycles and other two- wheelers were forced to go upto the old Reserve Bank Circle and enter the other half of the Residency Road to reach their college. Even from the other side, thanks to the one way system, the students could not enter their college from the St. Mark's Road. The old campus had almost been marooned in the rising tide of vehicular traffic.
``Where on earth is Asirvatham Circle?'' one might ask. It had the old and more popular name of Field Marshal Cariappa Circle. The City Corporation had named it after Prof. S.A. Asirvatham who was teaching history in St. Joseph's College. With the same civic body renaming the place and the police destroying the small traffic island which existed there, what is lost is one of the very few public places named after a teacher. The Residency Road was a quiet retreat even in the early Seventies. Bungalows lined the road from Richmond Circle upto Mayo Hall. One of the little patronised hotels on the road was believed to be haunted. The Josephites of those days, who are now in their greying and balding middle age, used to ride their bicycles with abandon. The only groups of people to be beheld on the road were students of the college and the schools around it. So few were the commercial establishments around, that most of those who worked there were familiar faces. The stretch of the Residency Road in front of the college was narrow those days and the Sacred Heart's Girls' School (also called Good Shepherd Convent) opposite the college was within beckoning distance. It was in the Fifties that the new block was built behind the old building bringing even the Bishop Cotton Girls' School closer to St. Joseph's. No wonder, the students in the mid-Fifties spoke of feeling the laral presence of Ms. Drayton, the British principal of Bishop Cotton Girls' School, who was murdered in 1953. The police of those days had bungled up the case by arresting the wrong person.
The new building of the college.
If a sepulchral silence pervaded the Residency Road-St. Mark's Road area at night, at least one road around the college, Convent Road, bore an eerie look even in the day. Some of the boys in the age gone by used to call the narrow stretch of the Residency Road the "chicken's neck". In the early Seventies the civic body, acquired a stretch of the Sacred Heart School's playground and widened the Road. Then followed the "development" of Bangalore, the big boom in building activity and crass commercialisation. The bungalows vanished and traffic generating offices, shops, restaurants, sordid pubs, and night joints took their place. For example, the Devonshire House and its vast grounds yielded place to Galaxy Cinema and a congerie of buildings. For the older generation of Josephites, it was Imperial, New Opera, Rex, Plaza, Liberty, and Empire which showed films made in Hollywood or Europe.The new campus of St. Joseph's College was once part of the garden around a bungalow, "Langford House", named after a 19th Century Britisher, Col. Pears Leslie Langford. A remnant of the bungalow still exists on the first cross, Langford Gardens. which links Lalbagh Road with Cornwell Street. Langford House came to be owned by C. Rangacharlu, who was the first Dewan of Mysore (1881-83), after its Rendition by the British. His descendants had lived in it. One of its better known tenants was Sir Albion Rajkumar Bannerji who was the Dewan from 1922 to 1926. The Lalbagh Road was a narrow thoroughfare till it was widened in the late Seventies. However the construction of the flyover has defeated that step. On account of its location in the erstwhile Bangalore Civil and Military Station which was ruled from Fort St. George in Madras, St. Joseph's College remained in the control of the University of Madras till the retrocession of the station to Mysore State, after Independence. Central College broke loose of Madras and became part of University of Mysore in 1916. The location was another reason why St. Joseph's drew its students from a limited area, the Cantonment and regions of Andhra Pradesh close to Bangalore and also parts of erstwhile Madras State, whereas Central College attracted students from all over Mysore State as it was the university's only science college for long. No wonder the roll of honour of the latter is long and more varied. However, the composition of students at St. Joseph's was more cosmopolitan, though it was a Roman Catholic institution.
Among the former Josephites to make it big in recent days are the State's new Chief Secretary, Dr. Audhikeshavalu Ravindra, industrialist Vijay Mallya who has entered the Rajya Sabha and Suresh Bangera promoted to the rank of a vice-admiral in the Indian Navy.
One of the better known of the former principals of St. Joseph's was the Rev. Father Thomas Gonsalves, who headed the institution during the Second World War (1939-45). A big name among its professors in the Forties was that of the Rev. Dr. Ferroli (mathematics). There were other noted academics on its rolls such as Professors P.K. Venkata Rao (English), G. Gangadharan (mathematics), Rev. C. Andrade, Rev. L. Fezzi, Principal Elias D'Souza (mathematics), Principal Menezes, and P.S. Narayana Rao (commerce), Sivasubramaniam (physics), J. Michael (economics), A. Dominick, and A.P.L. D'Souza (economics), B.R.A. Rao and N. Balasubramanian (political science), Clement Arulnathan, and B.J. Mathews (history). Shamanna (botany), Nagaraja Sastry (sociology), P.K. Balasubramanian, and G.K.Govinda Rao (Commerce College) (English), A.R. Mitra (Kannada), K. Gururaja Hebbar (chemistry), and Thandaveshwara Rao. A prominent academic in recent years was the noted environmentalist, Father Cecil Saldanha (botany) who passed away recently.
Photos: Sampath Kumar G.P.
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