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Tempest thunder, betrothal burst

Suri, Dec. 19: All that remains of the old college structure is a tin shed and a banyan tree. The college wanted its most famous student, President Pranab Mukherjee, to address his audience from there, although security reasons didn’t permit that.

But protocol could not stop the crowd, especially its younger members, from giving Mukherjee a hero’s welcome when he visited Suri Vidyasagar College this morning.

Mukherjee had studied here from 1952 to 1956. He was admitted to the ISc course in 1952, paying a registration fee of Rs 2. He then did his BA here from 1953 to 1956.

“I was not very good as a student,” confessed Mukherjee, 78, smiling. “My ISc results were not good, the BA results were better.” He was nevertheless pronounced “the brightest student to come out of the college” by his teacher Debranjan Mukhopadhyay, whose feet the President touched.

Mukhopadhyay felt more honours should be given. He said the principal’s office should have Mukherjee’s portrait.

On stage, Mukherjee, sat in the middle, with academics and eminent alumni on two sides.

Looking up at him from the audience were his college friends Gangacharan Mishra, Balaram De and Deepten Banerjee. Mishra spoke of Mukherjee bursting into the hostel room and announcing, in English, of a “betrothal alliance”. His friends obtained a marriage registration form from Wellington Street. It led to his marriage.

Mukherjee spoke about Arun Sen, who was principal then. Sen taught English. “When he taught The Tempest, we could hear a hint of thunder and storm in his voice,” Mukherjee said.

From Sen, he learnt how to speak. “I have met many excellent speakers in my political life, but hardly anyone like Arun Sen,” said Mukherjee, who participated in debates in college. “I was shy at first. The first two years, I couldn’t debate. I debated well in the third and fourth year, encouraged by Arunbabu,” he added.

Sen had given him the key to successful speaking: “When you speak, believe that you know best.”

There was a certain “romanticism” (claps from the students) about the banyan tree. It was the repository of history. Or of stories. Bhaskar Pandit, a leader of the Bargis (Maratha robbers who descended on Bengal after Aurangzeb’s reign), would rest here under a tent.

Today, Mukherjee inaugurated the language laboratory at the campus.

The President tried to chalk out a blueprint for the future from his alma mater. He said that in India, college education should lead to research. “In our country, two crore and 18 lakh students are enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. But less than one lakh are enrolled as PhD students,” the President said.

“There has been physical expansion, but not qualitative,” the President said to cheers from the audience.

At an event in Visva-Bharati in the afternoon to inaugurate the centenary celebrations of the Nobel Prize awarded to Tagore, Mukherjee said the poet received the award with nonchalance and humility because it was a testament to his ideas of “global harmony”.

As Mukherjee left Rabindra Bhavan, his elder brother joined the others in bidding him farewell and folded his hands in a namaskar.