How Islamia College Peshawar Lost its Kulla

Posted on March 15, 2011
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Education, History, People
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Mast Qalandar

In an earlier post I had described the different Pugrees worn across Pakistan, including the famed and flamboyant Peshawari Patkaiy or Kullah. There is an interesting story passed down by generations of students of Islamia College Peshwar about how this particular turban, once part of the prescribed college uniform, was abandoned by the College.

As a background information I should add here that Islamia College Peshawar (ICP) was founded in 1913 by Sir Sahibzadah Abdul Qayyum, a Pushtun, and Sir George Roos-Keppel, the then British Chief Commissioner of NWFP, who was a virtual Pushtun in that he spoke Pushto fluently and also understood and adopted many of Pushtun customs.

While founding the ICP the two gentlemen tried to model their institution after the Aligarh Muslim College, which was founded 35 years earlier by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Following Aligarh’a example they also chose black achkan as part of the uniform for ICP students. To the achkan they added the local turban as head-wear. Both gentlemen, I should add, we proud turban-wearers themselves.

Thus the Peshawar Kullah along with black achkan, white shalwar, and black chaplis/shoes became the uniform of ICP students. However, the turban didn’t last long and was soon discarded. One reason for giving it up was that it didn’t sit too well on mostly 16-17 year olds who were usually too skinny at that age to sport this bulky head-wear. The other reason was more interesting and requires a bit of explanation.

In all the college hostels (there were 7) a bell would ring early in the morning and the students would stream out of their rooms into the hostel’s courtyard and line up, all dressed up in black achkan, white shalwar, black shoes and, of course, the Patkaiy or turban. First there would be a roll call to ensure that everyone was present, followed by an inspection. The hostel superintendent would pass by each student to see if he was properly dressed, which meant a properly buttoned up achkan, its collar hooked, no azarband hanging loose, the shoes shined and the shamla of the turban flared and proudly standing up.

Ditching the “dress parade” (that is what it was called) or turning up improperly dressed at the parade was considered almost a felony and the culprit was fined. Since boys were and will always be boys, they couldn’t resist pulling pranks on each other. When everyone was rushing out of his room to join the dress parade, one tug at the tail of someone’s turban would unravel the turban and the student would end up missing the parade.

And this happened not too infrequently. As an insurance against such mishaps the students would keep an extra turban ready to wear. If one were pulled apart at the last minute, the ‘victim’ would quickly fetch the other, don it and rush back to join the parade.

But there was not always a happy ending to such episodes. So, legend has it, the college administration mercifully decided to abandon the turban altogether – to the relief of the latter generations including mine.

Mast Qalandar is a proud alumnus of Islamia College Peshawar.Originally published at ATP on December 20, 2006.

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