One of the most renowned professors of a subject as grandiloquent as History, Professor Sunil Kumar, passed away on the 17th of January, 2021 in New Delhi. The man who adored Delhi as an embellished jewel in the crown of India took his last breath in his South Delhi home after complaining of breathlessness. He was a patient of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
A proclivity for perfection, Professor Kumar had pulled out numerous papers and two voluminous books – “The Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate, 1192-1286” and “The Present in Delhi’s Pasts”.
Above all, both have managed to touch the very heart and soul of History beautifully.
THE MAKING OF A HOLISTIC HISTORY FROM THE EYES OF DELHI
For students studying History as a core paper or a generic-elective subject or studying the subject at the University of Delhi or outside it, Professor Kumar’s name rings a familiar bell. His unbeatable analysis had managed to alter the approach in which History was being taught at the biggest central university of India.
I, myself, am a generic-elective History student. I remember encountering excerpt citations from Professor Sunil Kumar’s “Assertions of Authority: A Study of the Discursive Statements of Two Sultans of Delhi” in Madhu Trivedi’s “Importance of Qutb Complex in the context of Delhi Sultanate”. Professor Kumar, there, painted the focal point in the social life of Delhi – the Qutb Mosque with pitch perfection. Starting from the description of the bazar-i-bazzazan to that of how the Masjid-i Jami conveys the act of destruction, the readings authored by Professor Sunil Kumar, stated in the syllabi of BA History and GE History have encroached a normal students’ perspective.
Professor Kumar’s contribution didn’t come with an academic constriction but in addition, to the hobbies or extra-curriculars of young students. One such trio – Farah Yameen, Ishita Tiwary, and Ritika Kaushik got an opportunity to direct “Once Upon a Sultan” which stars Professor Kumar and Historian Uma Chakravarty. The film revolves around Razia Sultan, the first female ruler of Delhi who sat on Iltutmish’s throne.
Watch | Once Upon A Sultan
A PEEP INTO PROFESSOR’S PAST
Born and brought up in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, Kumar went to Delhi to complete his senior-secondary schooling. After that, he pursued BA in History from St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. Professor Kumar, as recalled, by his friends, was a somber-looking fellow back in St. Stephen’s. Apart from History, the professor had two other muses – basketball and his girlfriend, Anjali.
He moved to the University of Bridgeport, US to pursue MA. Later, he pursued his Ph.D. from Duke University. He taught at St Stephen’s College, DU, and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) at different points in time.
“His nickname from youth was ‘Saddy’ because he had a sad face, but his personality was anything but sad. You could always count on him to read an essay or a book manuscript and give you pertinent comments,” Associate Professor Manan Ahmed wrote in his blog remembering Prof. Kumar as a batchmate. (Source: www.chapatimystery.com, a blogging website run by Manan Ahmed, Associate Professor of History at Columbia University.)
FAMILY AND DETERIORATING HEALTH
Professor Kumar’s immediate family included his spouse Anjali and their two children – Sikander Kumar and Shefali.
“The COPD became worse in recent months because of pollution. Just two days ago, we had an appointment with his pulmonologist and his vitals were good. We even asked if he would require oxygen support, but the doctor said it wasn’t needed,” told his son, Sikandar Kumar. “Around 1.30 am, he complained of breathlessness and suddenly collapsed. We took him to the hospital but it was too late.” (Source: The Indian Express)
Professor Kumar’s co-editor for academic journal IESHR (Indian Economic and Social History Review) and above all, beloved friend Historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam does mention the formidable professor’s deteriorating health in the span of recent months, in his blog.
A MEMORIAL MEETING FOR PROFESSOR SUNIL KUMAR
In remembrance of Professor Sunil Kumar, the University of Delhi held a memorial meeting on the 22nd of January, 2021. The venue was in front of the Social Science Building, North Campus, University of Delhi.
The senior executive editor of NDTV and primary anchor of the weekday show “Prime Time” Ravish Kumar was also there. He paid homage to his favorite mentor whom they addressed as “Sultan”. Ravish’s eulogy brought tears in the eyes of all those who had known Professor Sunil Kumar as someone who was more than a mentor, more than a colleague, and more than a Historian.