Life and times at Ganga dhaba: For a few greasy paranthas more
Most hostels on the campus have dhabas of their own that give students late night solace with endless cups of tea, coffee, maggi and bread omelettes. Anyone who has ever lived in a hostel will know these things matter more than your CGPA on certain nights. These dhabas are either inside the hostel (like in Lohit – I could give my left arm for Raju bhaiya’s egg rolls and poached eggs and bread) or are just outside like in Sabarmati, Bhamhaputra (Promod bhaiya’s egg fried rice has chole in it!), Tapti, Godavari and of course Ganga. For those hostels that do not have their own dhabas – they need to just hobble over and share ours. We are accommodating like that.
What a non-JNUite must also understand is that each dhaba comes with its own heritage and more often than not, the impending closure of any dhaba is more an emotional loss than a quantitative or a qualitative one. With news of Ganga Dhaba probably shutting shop, JNUites are more concerned about losing a part of themselves than those greasy paranthas.
Like Tapti’s 24/7 dhaba was the haunt of most Delhi party hoppers with cheap and easily available food all night (all you needed was someone to get you into JNU, we do have some strict rules); Ganga dhaba was the first dhaba that you crossed the very moment you entered JNU. Ganga served up some passable paranthas, samosas, bread omelets, bread pakoras, maggi, lemon tea, banta, fresh juice and throw in some usual other snacky fare and there you have the entire menu right before you.
For old timers who have had the luxury of just trooping into JNU (I mean my dad’s friends) – Ganga dhaba was the spot. For meetings, heartbreaks, heartaches, debates, meeting new loves and old. The little cement blocks served as chairs, tables, thrones and podiums – take your pick. And for years since, nothing has changed. This is perhaps the good and the bad of JNU. A time-warp.
‘Ganga dhaba was the essence of what campus life stood for when I first came to JNU as a MA student,’ says Sujay Thakur, a second year PhD student from the School of International Studies. ‘The very essence of night addas, from Israel to America, from Gisele Bundchen to Deepika Padukone, Gandhi to Girish Karnad,’ says Thakur, adding addas now sway towards the newest malls and the best sales deals! ‘And that is terrible. People no longer identify with long walks around Ring Road or the pretty pathways we discovered all over campus.’
The closing of Ganga dhaba is the metaphorical epitaph of the vanishing breed of free-thinkers that JNU is known for.
But Thakur also points out that its closing is more a legal problem than an emotional one. The dhabas on campus are run by owners whose lease on this government property has run out. What are to come next are new tenders, new pitches and new owners. Ganga dhaba along with a few other eating spots are under the same threat, but Ganga dhaba being what it is has created the hullabaloo, says Thakur. Odds are that with new owners or the same ones with renewed lease – nothing might change. Alternately, everything might change with a change of guard. ‘And if that happens it will be a very sad thing,’ rues Thakur.
Sami Ahmed Khan, a PHD scholar from the School of Languages, says, ‘Ganga dhaba is the social nerve centre of JNU. It’s that intersection of food, people and ideologies that makes it totally unique, if it does shut down – it will be a huge loss.’
Vivek Mishra, PhD student from School of International Studies, feels the problem is deeper. ‘JNU needs better infrastructure. But it should never mean that the administration can go ahead with its infrastructure development plan with sub-zero concern for demands of its student community. Closing of Ganga dhaba will most definitely come at costs that are historical and emotional to all of us,’ he says.
I recall my first night out in JNU when tea and food from Ganga rescued us, a hungry, semi-drunk bunch of lost students. I remember talking politics with classmates over long evenings and playing with puppies. Those are a lot of memories, aren’t they? Way too much to lose. And I know I speak for all JNUites here.