“I have no work at the moment. There is no money coming in to fund my children’s education and pay rent,” says Sushil Kumar, son of Rohtas, who was the darling of Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College.
Rohtas used to sell samosas, nimbu paani and gulab jaamun in what was popularly known as the Dhaba. It has been almost three months since Rohtas passed away, owing to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Since then the eatery has remained closed.
The dhaba has always been popular among students and the alumni of the college. When Rohtas died, college alumni, including Ramachandra Guha and chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian, wanted to hold a prayer meeting. But they were stopped by the then college principal, Valson Thampu.
Thampu stirred up a controversy, calling Rohtas “samosa wala”. He reportedly implied that Rohtas also supplied drugs to students. In 2012, Thampu tried to close the dhaba, but students put up a strong resistance. Now, Sushil has to wait for an approval from new principal, John Varghese, who took over on March 2.
“They are yet to decide on whether or not to allow the dhaba to run. The dhaba has been an important part of the identity of the college. It has forged and sustained so many relationships. But look at the current state. Almost a century-long association with the college does not have to end this way,” he said.
The family’s association with the college started in 1922 when his grandfather, Sukhiya, started selling some food items. Rohtas followed his father’s footsteps and became an iconic figure for several students and teachers. In the last few years, Sushil helped him at the dhaba. The teacher and the student community of the college have already drafted petitions, requesting the administration to allow the reopening of the dhaba.
“Rohtas and his family have been part of St. Stephen’s for many years. Generations of Stephanians have related to the dhaba and made a beeline for it. It is important to reopen it as quickly as possible. The students are missing it. There is absolutely no reason that his son should not continue in his place,” said Nandita Narain, mathematics teacher at the college.
A college student, on condition of anonymity, said, “I think they are not keen on bringing Sushil back to college.” Varghese did not comment on the matter.