Back in the 1970s and 80s there was a clear choice for students from English-medium schools – Fergusson College or Wadia. Those with a more scholarly mind opted for Fergusson while others preferred the freer atmosphere of Wadia.
Wadia was a great college too, mind you. And the presence of a cosmopolitan crowd, including foreign students, made it a lively place to study.
It was not easy to get into Fergusson, particularly in the science faculty. They needed marks to make the cut.
As someone living in the Pune Camp area, I opted for Wadia initially and was actually looking forward to some ‘Cool’ days in college. But then a girl who I was smitten by revealed that she was going to Fergusson.
You don’t wait in the matters of love. Within a trice, I decided that Fergusson it will be for me too.
I was apprehensive. I had heard stories that Fergusson was very strict and conservative. So I landed at the gates of the college, dressed in neat trousers, hair well combed, prim and proper. That it ended with torn jeans and an old khaki shirt is a different matter altogether.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer beauty of the place. It was so vast. And it just spread into the distance.
The hallowed Main Building, probably dating back a century, looked very Victorian and old. The amphitheatre and library were also huge old brownstone structures, standing out in all its majesty.
The only sore point was a small old building which housed the State Bank of India. But I later learnt this one floor building was actually a popular haunt for lovers who surreptitiously met on the rear side of the first floor.
Opposite the Main Building, was the Language Department building, quaint and small, where people usually stood around, chatting about the main attraction of the day – girls.
Next to it was the Ladies Room. This was the most popular area of the entire college. Every day, without fail, girls in all their finery stood there in groups chatting during the short break from 9.30am to 9.45am. This fashion parade was the time when boys you thought never existed in college surfaced from nowhere to take part in The Walk.
And the boys kept walking past the area again and again until the bell rang, straining necks while trying to spot their hopefully future love interest. This was an exciting ritual for many a student who later went through the drudgery of daily classes with renewed energy.
Just ahead were the modern structures which hosted some of the labs and science classes. The IMDR building was on the right, standing lone and distinct.
Flanking the college on the right was the Boy’s Hostel or rather the prison which it resembled. Before the hostel was the canteen, run by a military looking gent called Prabhakar. Everything was discussed here – from poetry to literature to boys and girls, politics, the Emergency, Ayatollah Khomeini among others.
Many romances started and continued or some snapped before the next cup of tea. Also there were also those who thought HoteL Vaishali, which was just a hop, skip and jump away, was where college could be conducted, self included.
The highlight of the college, of course, was a culvert which was lovingly called the katta. No Fergussonian will ever forget that nook. It was a pleasant place to sit, while away time under the shade of a tree with a small stream passing gently.
This was where some nefarious elements who wanted to have a quick smoke converged to – far from the pathways and easy to hide the cigarettes or sometimes a joint from the probing eyes of the authorities.
And those wonderful tales of professors who became legends – Prof S P Pathak, tall, gaunt with glasses, eyes glued downwards but ready to shoot up suddenly and catch a student unawares with a question. Legend has it that he cracked the same joke the same day every year.
Then the wonderful Ms Karnik, half French, half Maharashtrian, who looked so beautiful that her classes were full with students from the class or otherwise. Sadly she died before her time but her fan club still remembers her fondly.
There was a biology lab assistant named Bhave, old, wizened, who came on a bike, probably a relic from the First World War. He was prone to double entendres which embarrassed girls though he thought it was in good fun. It goes on.
Today thousands of Fergussionians are very proud of their Alma Mater after it was granted University status. It rightfully deserved it.