It is a fact well acknowledged that finding out the whereabouts of Tingu ji is the first thing that most of the KMC students do when they reach college.
Who is Tingu ji? A four feet-five inch tall man, 62 years of age, wearing kurta pyjama and a white hat, which he refers to as his ‘college uniform’,Â Tingu Ji is the ‘official’ toffee and cigarette seller in KMC. He roams all around the college, every day, from morning to evening, selling his wares to campus students.
Amar Nath, now lovingly known as Tingu ji, was born in ‘proper-ek dam barabar Delhi’, as he defines it, in the year 1952. He completed his graduation in Political Science from KMC in the same year the legendary Amitabh Bachchan studied there. Don’t be surprised if you hear a news in the North Campus that Tingu ji was a batch mate of Amitabh Bachchan. It is a highly known fact in North Campus, and everyone keeps on talking about it now and then.
This news was made famous in the area by none other than Gulshan Grover, the ‘Bad Man’ of Bollywood, who was enrolled in Shri Ram College of Commerce in 1980. He used to visit KMC often, and sit with Tingu Ji for hours in his college days. To boost up his business, he started telling everyone that Tingu ji did his graduation from Kirori Mal College along with the great Mr. Bachchan.
The news spread like a wildfire. Tingu ji became the talking point of the campus at that time, and his business boomed. Students, teachers, and journalists came up to him, fascinated with the idea of chatting up with a man who roams around selling cigarettes and toffees, while his batch mate is now the biggest superstar of Bollywood.
Even today, when freshers join college, they are told the same story, and Tingu ji too keeps bragging about it. “It gives me good business”, he says laughing, “Some people go far ahead, some stay behind. This is life”, he adds.
Everyone in KMC told me that interviewing Tingu ji is no easy task. I realized why. He mostly snubs you away by saying that he has no time. Sometimes, he will ask you to buy stuff from him in exchange for the interview. If and when you are able to convince him for the interview, he will sit with you under the shade and talk to you. But at that time, you would realize the extent of his popularity, as with every passing minute, your interview will be disrupted by other students, peons, teachers etc., coming to him for toffees, lollipops, cigarettes or even just for a chat.
As I sit with him, he fondly recalls how he has duped several media personalities. “The journalists come to me and ask me, “where is the man known as Tingu ji?”. I give them a direction to follow. Soon they return to me laughing, and tell me that I am Tingu ji. I tell them that I already know that. Comedy.” He laughs.
He often talks about the reportage that was done by a local newspaper of him and Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, standing together in the KMC canteen. Apparently, Amitabh Bachchan owed him rupees 6.50 from earlier days. And with all the stories circulating around the campus about that, Mr. Bachchan visited KMC canteen and met him. It could’ve been the best moment of Tingu ji’s life for he carries a printout of that newspaper article in his pocket all the time. Or it might just be another business strategy to attract students.
“People do not believe that the superstar came to meet me. So I carry this along as a proof,” he said when I asked him.Â He started his business in KMC in 1970, at the age of 20. He was unable to find a decent job. He also loved being around North Campus. So, he started earning money by selling stationery products in the huge bag that he carries around, which he fondly calls as ‘jaadui pitara’. The need to earn quick money gripped him and he realized that to make ends meet, he must include more items in his bag.
Toffees, candies, biscuits, lollipops, Rasmola, Chatmola, and all such ‘timepass ki cheezein’, as Tingu ji calls them, were included in his bag. Cigarettes and tobacco products, which are always popular among students, were included too. Soon, the stationery was thrown out, and the ‘timepass ki cheezein’ took over his bag.
The huge red bag that he carries is always overflowing with such items, weighing almost 6-7 kg. “I cover a distance of almost 16-18 km everyday as I take multiple rounds throughout KMC. I reach here at 11 A.M., and leave at 7 P.M. In my early days, I used to be here at 8 a.m. but now I am getting old,”Â he says.
By the way, Tingu ji has sat and gossiped in KMC with some of the who’s who in the entertainment industry today. He fondly recalls Shakti Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Sushant Singh, members of the band ‘Parikrama’, and even Kay Kay who graduated from KMC. I found out that he was also approached by Shah Rukh Khan in 1989 for a small role in his TV serial ‘Doosra Keval’.
“I played a one-minute part in the show. I was a villain”, he tells me.Â He earns a daily profit of 300-500 INR. People sometimes buy stuff from him and tell him that they will pay later. But he has a sharp memory. “I never write down anyone’s remaining balance. I always remember each and every one by their names and faces.”
As people come to him to buy his wares, he keeps reminding them their remaining balance and then mocks them and makes fun of them in front of others. He sees a professor and laughingly tells me, “This guy graduated out from here, used to buy cigarettes from me. Ab professor banke shanapanti karti hai.”
Tingu Ji is comically boastful. He fondly tells me that teachers too ask for him as soon as they reach college. Even at alumni meets and seminars that are held in college, everyone meets him first before they take their seats. “I will be in some other corner. I would get a call and be asked to come to some other corner by people who wish to meet me. Sometimes I go, sometimes I don’t. Apni Mann Marzi ka maalik hun main.”
When it comes to matters of wisdom, he never stays behind and always has something to give. He tells me that the movies that are made these days are very easy to make. “Anybody can make movies like ‘Creature’. These are ordinary things. The real movies are the classics like ‘Sholay’ and ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makaan’ which I saw in the theatre with money I earned here in college. Now I do not watch movies.”
Even though a large part of his business runs around cigarettes and tobacco products, he has never smoked once in his life. Still, he has the cure for harmful effects of cigarettes. He tells me in a very serious tone, “Cigarette consumption causes heart problems. So drink a glass of water, then take a smoke and then have a cup of black tea. All the nicotine will be flushed out of the system.”
He is known for his wit, humour and charming nature. Students from drama, music and photography societies sit with him all day long chatting and discussing art, theatre and music. He always take part in discussions and debates and always has something funny to say. “Through comedy, through jokes, one can form relations with other. Hence, I am always trying to make the other person laugh.”
He has been around the college for more than 40 years. He has seen thousands of students graduate and making a name for themselves. He has seen college principals, teachers and staff coming and going. And yet, the only thing he feels nostalgic about is how people used to talk to him earlier. “People talked with respect before. Teachers thought of me as a friend. Now students talk in a rude manner sometimes and teachers try to give me their ‘jhoothi’ sympathies.”
When asked whether he likes his profession, he says, “When I started my small business, the jobs used to pay very less and work was pretty hard. With my small business, I can work when I want, I can do what I want. And I earn as much as I need.”
“Nobody tried to help me out. I did it all on my own. Teachers, faculty or anyone could have given me a small shop, small job or ‘roz-marra ki cheezein’, but they did not. So I enjoy what I do and I take pride in it. I meet with people and I laugh around with them. Pehle Tingu sabse rishtey banata hai. Fir log Tingu se rishtey banate hain,” he added.
Tingu Ji lives with his wife, two sons and a daughter, near Jahangirpuri. But on asking him where he stays, he responds in his usual charming and funny manner, “Indian mein (in India)”, he laughs and carries on, “Delhi University ke dilon mein (in the heart of Delhi University)”.
The students of KMC agree.
(This article was originally written as an academic exercise at AJK Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia)