Paternal Property: LI Parija & The Ravenshaw

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When I came to Ravenshaw in the end of 2006, as the Vice Chancellor, all that greeted me in the front area were two badly made cement statues, asymmetrically placed along side a cobbled tennis court with potholes, which had long fallen into disuse. While one statute was that of Pandit Gopabandhu Das, the other was supposed to resemble Dr Pranakrushna Parija, the redoubtable Cambridge-educated Principal of Ravenshaw College in the thirties of the last century, who left behind a tenure of lasting glory.

Most statues in India, often badly hewn and cut, seldom resemble the visage they are meant to.  This was no exception. Besides the nose had been chipped off and the spectacles hung askew. There was a huge agitation against any change to the Ravenshaw’s structure, including many useless appendages. The issues were more sensitive about the statues. Many thought it would be a hurried and rash act and I must seek cool counseling . The night before we brought in the cranes to lift the statues and demolish the ugly pedestals,  I only thought of asking one person, Lulu Parija (Lalat Indu Parija), known by his initials ‘LI’. He took my call.

‘Sir, I need your permission to remove the statue of Dr Parija which is in the open in front campus. It is weather worn, kaput and finito. We will make a new statue and place it inside the renovated Kanika Library.

‘But why ask me?’ He sounded bemused. ‘You are the VC’

But Sir… I may be the VC, but Ravenshaw is your paternal property. Not only the statue, we all recognize that we can’t conceive of Ravenshaw college without recalling Dr P K Parija. If anybody now lives in Odisha, and is qualified to call Ravenshaw as his father’s place, it is you. The statues will be removed tomorrow. There is a huge agitation, as you know. I do not need anybody’s permission except yours. It is only to soothe my own conscience.

There was the same bemused tone on the other end. ‘You call them statues! When I visit, I do not even look in that direction. What you are doing is very apt. Go ahead.’

I had the honor of working under LI Parija, as Additional Secretary in the Home Department in Bhubaneswar, while he was the Chief Secretary. I recognize the incisive finality of his soft tone.

LI Parija never studied in the Ravenshaw college. He was in St Stephen’s in Delhi. But he  was perhaps born on the campus of Ravenshaw and spent all of his childhood and young years. Once while walking in the campus, he pointed out his old house to me, which was once his father’s bungalow, and he recounted his mirthful memories of childhood, including how the great Indian Nobel Laureate C V Raman, the physicist, lived in their house for a few days as his father’s guest. He also told me how the gracious rectangular structure of the Ravenshaw building had unblocked corridors, and how as children, they could run from West to East Hostel and back through the science corridors, (his father Dr Parija was the superintendent of West Hostel), using the inside corridors as a thoroughfare. ‘You are conserving Ravenshaw, can you make it like that again?’ I had promised him. We had removed most of the blockades and  spurious constructions in the corridors. A little more effort and the thoroughfare of LI’s childhood can be restored. And Dr Parija’s old residence, the eight room large British-built bungalow can be made into a living museum with stories and anecdotes, and available photographs, of a glorious era including the memorabilia  of  C V Raman’s visit.

Who can say, LI doesn’t have an entitlement to call Ravenshaw as his father’s place!

(The Writer Is A Renowned Litterateur and Former Vice Chancellor Of Ravenshaw University)

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