In the grand philanthropic tradition of the langar (free food service) started by the Sikh saints, one Jagdish Lal Ahuja of Chandigarh has sold off most of his properties to ensure that the poor and needy are fed each day. For over 15 years, the man who was once known as the ‘banana king’ has distributed free food to people outside Chandigarh’s government hospitals.
It is well known that anyone, regardless of religion, caste, creed or economic capacity can walk into a gurudwara to get a free meal from the langar. So the Sikh community has a time honoured tradition of seva and community service which Jagdish Lal Ahuja decided to carry forward. Baba’s Langar, is Ahuja’s philanthropic project which can be found outside the PGI each evening and outside the Government Medical College every afternoon.
In January 2000, Ahuja was passing the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI) when he saw a man distributing rice to the poor. The next day, on 21 January 2000, Ahuja himself stared to distribute free food to the poor outside the hospital which he has done without a break now for more than 15 years. Poor patients undergoing treatment and their relatives, rickshaw pullers and daily wagers; anyone in need can find sustenance at any of these places. Each day queues start to form when the SUV with the words “Jagdish Lal Ahuja, PGI Bhandare Wale, Chandigarh” is spotted. Other necessities such as shoes, blankets and woolens are also distributed to the needy.
Ahuja was 12 when he crossed over during the partition and later built a successful business as a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. He was known as the banana king of the city during his heyday. When he decided to embark on his philanthropic endeavor, he started to sell off his properties to finance the project that has cost several crores over the years.
Ahuja has resolved to continue to serve food to the needy – people receive three rotis, allo-chana, halwa, a banana and a packet of sweet biscuits – until his last breath. He continues to feed the needy because, as he says “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”.