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अलीगढ़ ::एएमयू कुलपति जमीरउद्दीन शाह का सेवा काल सेना के इतिहास में स्वच्छ, अनुशासनप्रिय एवं वीरता की गाथाओं से परिपूर्ण है।

AMU students miss Panditji, cholawala

Aligarh: Panditji cholewala's association with Aligarh Muslim University goes back to 1987. Ever since, he has not spent a single day away from the university. He would sell cholas (chickpeas), and over time he built a unique bond with the student fraternity. As news of his death on March 27 spread, alumni as well as current students shared their grief. His real name was Murari Lal; on campus, he was fondly called "Panditji."

He started selling chickpeas for 50 paise in the 1980s. The price climbed steadily over the years, and he would sell a plate of his chickpeas to students for Rs 10, mixed with tomatoes and flavoured with condiments.

His thela (pushcart) was equipped with utensils to whip up chola, onion, chillies and tomatoes; the roof and sides of the cart were made of glass, and on it were clippings of newspaper interviews.

"Humara interview kab logi? Usko thele pe lagana hai," he would often remind journalists who had not interviewed him. Many students remember that he would never need to shout to sell his chickpeas - be just roamed the campus silently, and students would gather wherever he stopped.

When he died on March 27, one of his sons informed his old associate, Haji Shabbir, a banana seller who these days has set up a juice shop close to the Maulana Azad Library on the campus.

Shabbir told TOI, "I used to carry a basket with bananas those days. When panditji took to selling his chola from a thela, I opened a juice shop in the 1990s. Our friendship deepened with time. He did not like to eat his lunch alone, so after roaming the campus, we would sit together for lunch. He would bring out his tiffin box, and his potato or vegetables and my dal made for a good meal. Students would remark that we were the perfect example of communal harmony."

After the riots in Meerut in 1987, and even in instances of communal violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, Panditji would find a way to serve students in the hostels his spare meal.

"In times of communal strife, when people preferred not to venture out, he would move with his thela. I too would tag along, carrying bananas. He knew of some safe lanes to reach the campus. After entering the campus, there was nothing to fear," Shabbir said.

He was in the university almost every day, and students now miss him and his Rs 10 treat.

Shahzad Alam Barni, former president of the AMU students' union, shared news of Panditji's death online: "He marks an era of communal harmony. Even during communal riots in the city, he never failed to come to the university."

Osama Jalali, a former student who is now a food critic with a newspaper, said, "Panditji was special. I once forgot to take money, and stepped out of the library hungry. I told him I had no money, but he took out his bowl and mixed the chickpeas and condiments for me anyway. Sometimes, noticing that a student was still hungry after wolfing down the chickpeas, he would do a refill, for free."

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