I have spent exactly one third of my life at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute (SGPGI), Lucknow. And one of the highlights of the years there was the campus and campus life. This is probably one of the largest medical campuses in India, spread over more than 550 acres of what was fallow and un-cultivable land when the project was started. In 1987, the year we moved into the campus, it was a barren tract with no trees and such alkaline soil that it would not support most forms of vegetation. Less than 25% of the land was developed. A largish wooded area belonging to the Forest Department adjoining the posterior boundary extendede the sense of vastness. A boundary wall that had been built around the full area, as soon as the land was acquired, but we only saw remnants of it here and there.
Over the years, persistent efforts paid rich dividends and laid gardens were nurtured and all the streets got lined with double row of trees. The residents struggled and finally succeeded in getting their gardens to grow fruit trees, vegetables and seasonal flowers. The continuous and inevitable expansion of the Institution led to many new buildings and each newer one was of less distinction than the last – generally reflecting the paucity of imagination and aesthetics in government construction. Many of these have taken decades to be completed – leaving these ugly half built structures. The business part of the campus has started to look almost crowded – and all in the space of 25 years.
In the early nineties, the need for more residences led to the then Director, exploring the barren tracts, only to find that sorrounding villagers were even cultivating crops within the boundaries. However, it was easy to trace the remnants of the original boundary wall (all the bricks had been pilfered) and reclaim the area. In the succeeding decade, the real estate boom led to all the cultivable land around getting taken over by the developers. And so, from an island of urban amenities in the rural landscape in late 80s, the campus is now in the heart of the southward crawl of the urban sprawl that is Lucknow.
Now the major part of the 550 acres is developed (??) – as the term is generally understood. The good part is that the tree cover is still wonderful – in fact, enough to sustain a fairly large neel gai population. They can be seen moving from one clutch of trees to another. The traffic in the residential part of the campus is not heavy and there has been a recent addition of a paved edging on the road. I am not sure if it meant to be replacement for a sidewalk, but I do wish a proper cycle track would be planned. It is an ideal campus for cycling to work!
A water body has come up – a scheme promoted by another Director towards water harvesting. Besides harvesting water, recreational activities were also planned with boating options etc. I am not sure how much water is harvested – and as for other plans, I could not see any evidence of that. Other amenities like the sports complex, housing 2 wooden floored badminton courts and the swimming pool among other things is still well used.
Every visit to the campus is full of nostalgia and the morning walks in SGPGI have a special dose of nostalgia. It was the same this time – and it was a special trip as I was there for the silver jubilee celebrations of the Institute. It was wonderful to meet with other retired colleagues and the current staff and reminisce over the early days of the campus, when we all met, made friendships and watched our children bond and grow in the total security that the campus offered. And as on each visit, I had my morning walk along the roads that I had tramped along for so many years. During these walks I was happy to see that the tennis courts have got new blue synthetic surface and the walking track is still being maintained reasonably. All in all, it was a great return to campus which was the closest to ‘home’ I have had.