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Monday, April 5, 1999

Cycling down sepia-toned lanes of Chandni Chowk

Smeeta Mishra Pandey  
NEW DELHI, April 4: Sarla Sharma, 78, remembers the summer of 1936 when she used to cycle through the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk to Indraprastha College. She wore crisp cotton saris as few girls wore salwar kameez those days.

``Perhaps, I was the first girl to cycle my way through the lanes of Chandni Chowk. People stared at me. But no one ever passed a comment,'' she says.

Sharma and her classmates are having their reunion this month as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of IP College. Sharma, now, a well-known social activist, told Express Newsline: ``I did not face any problems cycling to college. There was very little traffic on the roads. Cycling around Chandni Chowk was a pleasure. When I visit the place now, it seems like a different city altogether.'' Sharma today misses the old Mai who escorted some of the girls to college and back to the security of their homes. She made poori and aloo dum for the girls and sold it for an anna or two. ``We did not have a canteen in college in those days. So, we would eagerly wait for her garam pooris and spicy aloo dum,'' Sharma recollects.

The 75-year-old IP College was the first and only college for women in the Capital then. It started life in a haveli in the Jama Masjid area as the Indraprastha school and soon graduated into a college. ``Later, it shifted to North Campus. Initially, it was located in the government residence allotted for the commander-in-chief of the Army,'' says Dean of Colleges of Delhi University, S.S. Rana.

Amongst the college's illustrious alumni are actresses Deepa Sahi of Maya Memsaab fame and Kavita Chowdhury, news readers Komal G.B. Singh, Salma Sultan, Pratima Puri and internationally acclaimed sarod player Sharan Rani. The latter enrolled at IP college in the year of Indian Independence -- 1947. ``As school children, we had supported the Quit India movement. Living in that heady era of patriotism, we felt very strongly for our country. When Independence happened, it was a strange experience as though we had arrived at our destination after a long and tiring journey,'' she remembers.

``Little did we realise that Independence would lead to partition and my friends would leave college and go to Pakistan. Some of our best teachers also left India.'' Rani has not been able to keep in touch with her friends who went to Pakistan during partition. ``I don't know their addresses in Pakistan and I don't know what they are doing now. I am planning to take a bus ride to Lahore. Maybe, I will bump into a friend then,'' she hopes.

News reader Pratima Puri stayed in the hostel in 1939. Puri's parents lived in Shimla and she was perennially home-sick, she says. ``My studies suffered a lot as I could never adjust to hostel life. There was nothing much to do in those days. Girls did not visit too many places. There was no concept of beauty parlours either. Almost everyone had long tresses. The few who cut their hair short got it done at home,'' she says.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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