An institution older than St Stephens
Not many people know that Delhi College (now known as Zakir Hussain College) is the oldest educational institution in the capital and perhaps in North India. Having started as a Madrasa in the eighteenth century, this unique institution has survived many troubled periods in Delhi’s history and has always come out victorious. For many who are of the view that St Stephens, one of the best colleges in the country is the oldest in Delhi, this must be news.
Legend has it that Mirza Ghalib was offered a job in the college but did not enter its premises (then at Ajmere Gate) since no one had come out to greet him. The institution has been known by several names in the past and functioned as a Madrasa, school and college. A visit to its orginal premises at Ajmere Gate will show that Anglo Arabic School with which the college shared the premises for many years still functions from there. It has produced some outstanding students, Sir Syed being one of them. Sir Syed later founded the Aligarh Muslim University.
The unique feature of this college has been that it catered to people of the walled city since its inception. It upheld the highest secular traditions of this country and had amongst its students, first timers from many families who were seeking to acquire higher education. The complexion of its staff and students has been such that it is truly representative of India. People of every faith and religion and region have been students here and have lived in harmony despite occasional tensions during the troubled periods of our history.
The college which had to close down shortly before the partition process began was revived following intervention by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and of course educationists like Dr Zakir Hussain. It was Dr M.N.Baig, the legendary principal who got his staff together and rebuilt the college as one of the finest educational institutions of the city. Dr Baig’s contribution in this regard continues to be lauded by all those familiar with the college’s re-surrection.
The precincts from where the College functioned at Ajmere Gate had history written all over. There is an ancient mosque, which still stands in the center, and the old building has produced students who occupy important positions in various professions and in public life. For instance, in local politics, there are several old Delhi College wallahs who hold positions. Chaudhury Prem Singh, the man who holds the record for never being defeated in any election (he has contested a dozen so far) is an alumini of the college. So are Haroon Yusuf (a minister) and Shoaib Iqbal, Dr Harsh Vardhan (former BJP president) and Hasan Ahmed, MLAs. Former Union Minister Jagdish Tytler and municipal councillor Mehmood Zia are from here and also former and present MPs—Shahid Siddiqui and Mohammad Afzal. Both Salman Khurshid and his illustrious father Khurshid Alam Khan were never students here but have been Chairpersons of the Governing Body. Former NSA and distinguished diplomat J.N.Dixit also was an alumuni.
The college while it was still in Ajmere Gate used to have girl students from orthodox muslim families seeking higher education for the first time. They would come in a Burqua and hang it in a special room just outside the Gate before entering inside to attend classes. They would collect their Burquas at the end of the day. Just a stone throw from the same Gate was a Chaat shop run by Bhai Jumma, which used to serve a special variety of chaat with home grounded spices and also Chana kulchas. The College precincts had just outside the principal’s room, a huge tree called Shijre Tamanna by students. It was under this tree that many a romance flourished.
The college also acquired a notorious reputation when in the evening some of the top Dons of the area would gather under this tree and discuss their own business. But that is all history now. The high reputation of the college was on account of its staff. Besides offering the maximum number of honours courses in Delhi university, the college had on its Faculty doyens like Prof. Randhir Singh, Manoranjan Mohanty, H.C.Ganguly, Prof. Maheshwari, Dr Shaida, Mr Ansari, Mr Shmain, Dr Virendra Kumar, Dr Nagar, Ravi Chaturvedi, Usha Alim and of course the unassuming Dr Bhisham Sahni and Ved Gupta. Last but not the least was Prof. Sayed Ahmed Ali, the principal who took over in the early seventies and began the process of shifting the college to its new premises with the help of the Zakir Hussain Memorial trust that provided the much needed financial backup to the institution to revive itself fully. Prof. Ahmed Ali’s contribution to the college is not second to anyone else though he liked to always underplay his role. He was indeed a great man with a lot of vision and was the best thing that happened to this college in a long time.
The Delhi College’s famed football team drawn mostly from students of Anglo Arabic, Fatehpuri Muslim and Raisina Bengali schools was difficult to beat by anyone. Legendary Delhi footballers like Aziz Quereshi who played for the City Club and also donned the national colours were all products of this great institution.
Time has passed and the college under Dr Aslam Pervaiz continues to fulfill its motto of Live By Love and pursue the highest academic standards. Zakir Hussain College (Delhi College) has come a long way and has a long way to go. For those interested in the College’s history, a book written in 1905 by Dr Abdul Haque titled “Marhoom Dilli College” can be very useful. It used to be in the College Library unless it has been whacked by someone.