Pakistan’s cultural and culinary metropolis Lahore, earned the sobriquet, ‘City of Gardens,’ because of its tree lined roads and beautifully laid out gardens. However, this great and historic city has one more distinction that its citizens can be justifiably proud of – Institutions of Learning and Knowledge. One of these, the Forman Christian College is celebrating its 150th Anniversary as this column goes to print.

F. C. College was founded in 1864 by Dr. Charles W Forman, a Presbyterian missionary from the USA. Initially known as the Lahore Mission College, the name was changed to Forman Christian College in 1894 in honor of its founder. The College campus was located at Nila Gumbad near Anarkali and by 1916 had expanded to a complex of four buildings, out of which Ewing Hall is still being used as one of its hostels. In 1940, the College moved to its present campus on the banks of the Lahore Canal, but was regretfully nationalized in 1972.  It was restored to its former owners, the Presbyterian Church in March 2003.

In spite of the fact that I am a Ravian, I rank F. C. College (along with my own alma mater) as one of Lahore’s landmark seats of learning. The connection with this College was established through my maternal grandfather and my eldest sibling. The former was enrolled in the Nila Gumbad Campus somewhere towards the end of the 19th Century and graduated from it during the first decade of the 20th Century with honors, winning a scholarship to Oxford University for the study of Mathematics. The award was declined by the young man when his mother appeared unhappy because of his expected trip across the sea and long absence from home.  As frequently happens in the divine order of things, this obedient son was rewarded by rising to great heights in the Indian Civil Service. My eldest sibling graduated from this College in the early nineteen sixties and ably kept the wickets for his alma mater.

I studied in Government College Lahore for a brief yet memorable period, but an army of my uncles from the walled city passed through the gates of this great institution. The college was inaugurated on 1 January 1864 in a portion of Raja Dhyan Singh’s palace with Professor Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitneras its first Principal. Many years later in 1882, Professor Leitner played a key role in establishing the Punjab University. It was in April 1871, that the College moved to its present site on a piece of raised ground with a commanding view of its surroundings. Government College received its charter as a university in 1996.

The Government College experience was memorable on two counts – one was the opportunity to interact with Dr. Nazir Ahmed, the College Principal. The good doctor was an individual par excellence, the likes of which are born ‘once in a millennium.’ His ‘rustic’ exterior belied an amazing treasure trove of knowledge, wit and student management skills. Such was his popularity and respect that once sacked by an autocratic government order, the students rose in unanimous agitation forcing his reinstatement.

Then there was the annual traditional cricket match between Government and Islamia College played in the University Grounds. With packed stands, supporters from both these institutions tossed slogans at each other and rising passions frequently boiled over. Some of these ‘war cries’ became so popular that they began to be used by the local crowd watching test matches during the nineteen fifties and sixties.

The crimson blazer that I proudly wore to my classes still hangs as a cherished memory in one of my closets. It bears the College Emblem which is a Torch, representing the Light of knowledge along with the words, “Courage to Know” – words that embody the guiding principle for all, who have the honor to wear this garment.

The writer is a historian.