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Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

Alma Mater is a Latin phrase which literally means ‘bounteous mother’ and has later figuratively come to mean the university, college or school which one attended and from which one derived mental and intellectual sustenance. In this sense, Gurucharan College of Silchar, popularly known as G. C. College, is the Alma Mater of many including the present writer. Many new colleges and educational institutes have come up at Silchar during the last 30-40 years, but G. C. College has always retained its prestige and glory as an institution that pioneered the higher learning process in the locality.

When one looks back in retrospect, one wonders what has made Gurucharan Collge such a happy part of one’s memory. Is it that we came in touch with some of the best teachers there? Is it that we learnt a lot during those four years about the discipline of study that we had been pursuing there? Is it that we enjoyed the best part of our early youth there in the company of wonderful friends? Is it that during those years our social skills were honed well enough to sustain us through the life’s struggle? I often feel perhaps all these factors combine together to make an institution an Alma Mater. Not that these different factors are etched in our memory in different strains nor do we remember them separately. As a matter of fact, the holistic impression that remains in our memory about our years in the Alma Mater is that we lived ‘intensely’ during that period. That is the dominant feeling into which all other impressions merge.

As such, the very physical appearance of G. C. College is so alluring that one cannot easily forget it. Nestled on a small tilah, the main college campus enjoys a seclusion which is tailor-made for such an institute, although some extended buildings do have residential quarters nearby. The legendary old jack-fruit tree with its cemented altarshaped base serves as a perfect meeting place where chit-chats, exchange of notes, occasional romantic encounters take place freely. It is under the shade of this jack -fruit tree that I as a fresher in the Pre-University course first came across the term ‘betray’ which was indiscriminately used in those days in the parlance of college students’ union elections and sundry love games. As a matter of fact, the election days and the college social week were the most futile period for romance to blossom.

On the eve of the election, it was a common practice to ask a ‘good’ student in each class to introduce the candidates for important posts like President, Secretary, Athletic Secretary, Music and Drama Secretary, etc. after which the candidate himself would address the students of the class appealing for their votes. I suppose the practice was motivated by the desire to impress upon the voters what a regular guy the candidate was. Otherwise, why should a ‘good’ student come forward to support him and introduce him? (Incidentally, so-called good students would usually shy away from these activities). As a so-called good student in my Pre-University class, I was approached by a couple of candidates to introduce them. As such I am tongue-tied, over and above I also suffer from stage-fright. Hence I got so seared at the prospect of climbing on the ecturer’s platform that I played truant from the college on the appointed day and declared myself sick!

Among many regular extra-curicular activities, one lovely custom was to celebrate the Milad Mehfil in the college by inviting a reputed writer, or an artist, or a singer from outside who would reminisce on his life and work and share his thoughts and feelings with the students. I used to find the programme extremely inspiring. It is in one such Milad Mehfil that I first met Syed Mujtaba Ali, the great Bengali writer. A conversationalist and raconteur par excellence, his wonderful speech virtually revolutionized my attitude towards knowledge and scholarship.

The present writer has the enviable credential of an alumnus who also taught in the same college. One fondly remembers those wonderful days when one would come across fresh batch of students every year. It was both educating and exhilarating to encounter so many fresh minds year after year which in turn would keep the teacher also mentally young. I can share with the readers today with all humility that my bonding with quite a few students are still intact and I am in regular touch with them, some of whom are themselves college / university teachers today. Like the age-old guru-sishya parampara they often make me stay at their houses whenever I travel to their part of the country. This is another rich dividend that my Alma Mater has paid me.

All the above thoughts surfaced in my conscious mind when some time back a few young enthusiasts of Delhi got together to form an Alumni Association of former students of G.C. College and approached me to discuss the possibility. This is how memory moves from one level of consciousness to another, depending upon an event that will act as a trigger. I was not aware how many former students of G.C. College might be living in Delhi nor did I have any clue how the networking could be forged. But, thanks to the relentless effort of these few young men, now we are in touch with more than hundred such alumni settled in Delhi. Nay, we have their names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail ID’s and what not, all in our record!

As such, the idea is to assemble somewhere once in a while, have a meal together, share each other’s know-how and cultural attainments so that a bonding through our Alma Mater remains permanently in place. In course of time perhaps a fund-raising drive will have to be undertaken so that some philanthropic activities centering around G.C. College may be initiated in a humble way, as visualized in the aims and objectives of our Constitution. So far, my role as the President of the Association has just been of a sparingly visible figure-head, providing maybe a little support to young Executive Members, especially the dynamic General Secretary, a word of advice here, a grey-haired caution there, — that’s about it. But I am amazed at their diehard perseverance and the spontaneous response of the alumni that we have been receiving. We have even established contact with some NRI alumni too! This leads one to dream that one day G.C. College Alumni Association may evolve into a platform of excellence spreading the name of our Alma Mater everywhere in India and abroad where power of intellection as well as purity of emotion are still considered the greatest achievement of mankind. Amen!

President, GC College Alumni Association Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee is a scholar, critic, academician and cultural administrator. He taught English literature at G. C. College and Comparative literature at Jadabpur University. Formerly Director of the National Book Trust and Editor of Sahitya Akademi’s journal ‘Indian Literature’, he is currently Director of K K Birla Foundation, New Delhi.

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