By Dr Raju Sharma
In an article in Firstpost, Rohit Bansal has reproduced an unedited text of a note authored by [St Stephen’s] Principal [Valson] Thampu. In that note there is a claim that [the fabled dhaba owner who supplied students of the college their daily samosas] Rohtas was filthy rich, he owned large tracts of land in his village and real estate in Delhi. Elsewhere Thampu has claimed that Rohtas is 50 times richer than the poor principal himself.
The legion of Rohtas lovers deserve to be told how this rich samosa peddler, loved by us all, spent his days and nights in the last three years of his curtailed life. And what afflicted and frightened him in his own home. And home was St Stephens College. What else was home for Rohtas? The dhaba where he worked, lived and slept.
In the bitter cold days of the winter of 2012-13, Rohtas would come to us many times during the day and night, and speak of his terror of being rendered homeless at night. Every night, one or more minions of the principal would come to his charpoy at various times of the night and wake him up. Rohtas slept in the open space behind the dhaba. You can’t sleep here, he would be warned. You are an outsider. You are a security risk. How can you sleep here? It is illegal. So go away, and don’t sleep here from tomorrow. Night after night it went on, until Rohtas himself was no longer sure whether indeed he was doing something which was illegal, for which he could be punished, even jailed. That is why his terror-stricken face asked us repeatedly: Where can I sleep? It took us many, many days to convince him to simply ignore anything verbal. And just request the messengers with folded hands that if he is not to sleep at night at his home, his dhaba, then please let him have a written order. No written order or notice was ever served, as expected. Yet he was woken up daily and threats whispered in his ears. We doubt whether Rohtas could ever muster the courage to say anything to the official minions or demand a written order. Those who remember the feisty, proud, spirited Rohtas would find it difficult to believe this, but by this time the long, insidious arm of administrative authority of one man, and one man alone, had defeated him. Rohtas, his terror and panic mounted. So we invited him to spend his nights at our house so long as he felt unsafe, a fugitive, hounded.
For a fortnight, Rohtas spent his nights at our house. He would come in quietly, after ten, through the back gate, and leave early in the morning around five. We only knew of his presence from his regular coughing. I am sure it was not tubercular coughing in the winter of 2012, but coughing brought on by intense fear and a sense of doom.
Things quietened after about a month. Rohtas must have kneeled before the reverend and asked a thousand pardons for sins not committed. So, the hunger for vengeance on the part of authority was temporarily sated.
Just before Diwali, in 2015, there occurred a minor skirmish between one of the guards at the Allnut Gate, the same ones who put out a lock on the day of the prayer meeting, and the kaarigar who assisted Rohtas in the making of samosas. Again, a verbal diktat was issued. No entry into college for any kaarigar for Rohtas. Again, no written orders, no process. Everything by whispering in the ears. Again terror took complete hold of Rohtas, this time with a far greater intensity. His dhaba remained closed for nearly a fortnight. Rohtas was a broken man. All he would say was: What am I going to do? Frankly, we had nothing to offer him. All efforts to beseech the authority through possibly viable channels failed. Finally, all we told Rohtas was this: Please go to the principal, apologise a thousand, a million times, seek his benediction and raham. Obviously Rohtas did more than that, and things somewhat normalised after a while. The official exercise of insidious (never reduced to paper or documentation) power was temporarily assuaged. But Rohtas knew it would happen again. Again and again.
Rohtas was never the same man again. He never recovered from this silent beating, this encounter with the absolute power of authority. In order to humour him, we kept telling him during all these last few months: Rohtas, there is a March after February. It will be spring time. Be patient, have patience.
Rohtas died before his time. This, we guarantee, is a true, factual description of the last years of the very rich samosa peddler. The guarantee is that we saw it all with our own eyes.
Sorry, Rohtas, for letting you down. May you rest in peace.
This text was accessed by Firstpost reporters from Laal Sitara, the St Stephens alumni FaceBook page. Prof Sangeeta Luthra Sharma of Delhi University posted it on behalf of her husband and fellow Stephanian, Raju Sharma, who graduated from the institution in 1981 and has lived on the campus for 13 years.