For the last 17 years, 82-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 free food facility is called ‘baba’s langar’ – it has run without a break all these years. There were times when Dr. Jagdish ran out of personal money but then he always sold one of his properties in the city to keep treating and feeding poor people.
In 2015, he sold his seventh property worth ₹1.6 crore to arrange money for his noble initiative. Ahuja has sold six other such properties worth crores to ensure that the poor do not go to bed on an empty stomach.
“Ab yeh langar nahi rukega… jab tak main zinda hun, Baba ka langar chalta rahega,” said Ahuja.
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.
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.
However, these days, shortage of money has made it difficult to run the langar but that has not stopped him. Asking for financial help from others to run the langar is against Ahuja’s principles. Instead, he has chosen to cut down the supply. “Earlier, I made this langar for over 2,000 people daily; now it’s for 500. I have reduced the quantity after 2015,” he added.
The number of vegetable drums has reduced from 17 to seven, the carts of chapattis have reduced from six to three and only two boxes of bananas are distributed instead of six.
His motivation comes from those he feeds daily. He said, “Main apna bachpan dekhda haan, inna ch (I see my childhood in them).”
Now that baba is growing old and is fighting cancer, he only comes for a visit towards the end of the langar. That is when he distributes balloons, toffees and snacks to children.