For the last 15 years, 80-year-old Jagdish Lal Ahuja, has been a well-known figure serving free food to hundreds of poor patients and attendants every day outside the PGI and the Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32.
The “baba’s langar,” as it is known, has never taken a break although there have been several occasions when Ahuja was about to run out of his personal funds. Each time he sold one of his properties in the city to raise funds and carry on with the philanthropic activity. He has so far sold six of his properties worth crores to raise funds.
Once again, even as the langar turns 15 on January 21, he has dipped into his reserves to keep it going. He has recently sold another property, seventh till date, for Rs 1.60 crore, to carry the mission.
“Ab yeh langar nahi rukega… jab tak main zinda hun, Baba ka langar chalta rahega,” said Ahuja.
He started his philanthropic activities around 35 years ago. On the 8th birth anniversary of Ahuja’s elder son, he decided for the first time to organise a community langar outside his shop and there was no looking back since then. The langar which started just for few poor children who used to gather outside his shop in grain market, years later, extended to thousands of poor patients and their family outside PGI and GMCH-32.
“Once, while passing through PGI, I saw a man sitting near the boundary wall of the institute, who was distributing rice to poor people. I asked if no one stops him, he said no. The next day, that was January 21, 2000, I started distributing free food to people outside PGI,” said Ahuja.
Since then, every day thousands of people are served free meal outside the two government hospitals.
As the clock strikes six in the evening, an SUV arrives at Gate number 2 of PGI, people start forming neat lines parallel to the hospital’s boundary wall. Within minutes, people are served free meals, that includes chapattis, dal, halwa, a banana and a pack of sweets or biscuits.
Similar scene can be witnessed at GMCH-32, at around 2:30 pm. These langars are not distributed on any special occasion, but daily without any holiday.
When asked about the motivating spirit, he said, “Serving food to the poor gives me immense satisfaction and peace of mind. Moreover, the spark in the eyes of children and smiles on their lips when they see the food, is what motivates me to do more and more for them. Until my last breath, I will keep serving them free meal.”
Apart from free meal, Jagdish Ahuja also distributes free blankets, sweaters, shoes and socks to the poor.
Know the man
Born in Peshawar, Jagdish Lal Ahuja came to Patiala during the partition in 1947, when he was only 12 years old. He started selling toffees to earn a livelihood. In 1956, he came to Chandigarh with few rupees in his pocket. He started selling bananas on a rehri, but slowly his business progressed and he became, what is known as, “banana king,” of the city.