Whither AMU Canteens?

On this day and date probably AMU is the only University in India which has the distinction of there being no University Canteen!

Probably since it’s inception no one felt need of having a respectable place to sit and have something to eat: if you see the M.A.O. College campus, there too you would find a Museum, a library, an auditorium, certain other big halls and a mosque but no canteen.

During our time as students, there was a University Canteen but it was housed in a building constructed in 1928 which was meant to be an “art gallery”. A medallion fixed on the facade of this structure even nomenclates it as ‘Moinuddin Art Gallery.

A Nawab Sahib used to run it along with a servant. Being mostly deserted it used to be the place for the few daring couples. One would go there and wait for the boy to come to take your orders. And then he would go to fetch the milk for the tea. Only those with ample time at hand would visit it!

Later on it was given on contract and soon got converted into a bustling canteen selling vegetarian and non-vegetarian thhalis, as well as biryāni. A cigarette shop too opened up nearby.

The University Canteen was housed in this structure till October 2013, when the structure was reconverted as an Art Gallery. A new building for the Canteen was subsequently built but now that too has since closed and the structure is now being used for some other purpose! Even when it was functional it was almost out of the way for any casual visitor!

Almost every other University have a plethora of not only canteens but Subsidised Canteens to boot! Why can’t AMU provide this facility is unfathomable!

Why can’t we develop the small chai dhaba behind the Library into a full fledged Canteen? There are some fruit juice sellers and a chāt seller already having their ‘thhela’ there.

Once upon a time AMU campus did boast of a number of eateries, each famed for something or the other. Instead of developing, they have either degenerated or disappeared.

Just behind the erstwhile ‘Ziauddin Hostel’ in MM Hall there used to be a Āshiq Ali Canteen. I remember that this joint was alway overcrowded and was a favourite spot for those living not only in MM Hall but also RM Hall. His hot samosas with sauce, omelettes and tea were hot selling stuffs. Namakparas were also a favourite. I remember going there on my tricycle with 50 paisas to have samosas and kāla jām in late 1960’s! Probably it was the first eatery which I visited in my life! Ashiq Ali Uncle would take the 50 paisa from me and give me the samosa with a liberal sprinkling of tomato ketchup, followed by a hot juicy kāla jām! The day when I had more more money, I would also treat myself with a Coca Cola or, sometimes, a Fanta!

Ashiq Ali Canteen in more recent times

I subsequently kept on visiting the place till I was doing my BA (Hons). However in my graduation and PG days, the more frequented spot was Hafeez ka Dhaba which was a respectable canteen near the Faculty of Arts. This place was frequented by both teachers and students. I remember frequently bumping into Iqtidar Alam Sahib, Irfan Habib Sahib and M Athar Ali Sahib here. Dr Rizvi “Gama” of Economics was a daily fixture there. Even girls and lady teachers too would visit this place. Bread pakodas were the usp of this place! It would open at 8:00 am and close down around 8:30 pm. It would also sometimes be open during late nights. Many a relationships were made and unmade there!

More famous were the iconic Cafe de Phoos and Cafe de Laila. Much has been written on them so I won’t talk much about them. Suffice to say that these two “canteens” made the fried dālmoth and barfi into status symbols of Aligarh!

And then of course there were innumerable road side tea shops in the Shamshad Market, as there are now: but then there is one primary difference between then and now! Then the chai was always served brewed in a white porcelain teapot and matching cups and saucers! Nearby were the shops of bun-kababs and omelette buns. And toast and butter were always served with steel butter spoons! Most of these places in Shamshad, Purani Chungi and Mandi had a gramophone blaring old classic Bombay songs.

At Purani Chungi there was this eatery called Jai Jawān, run by an ex-subedar of Indian Army! The bread pakodas sold there were unique and I still wish to taste them once more in life, but alas!

Aligarh had a tahzeeb which slowly disappeared with this canteen culture!