R-day honours

Padma Shri for city’s ‘langar baba’, PGI doc

Jagdish Lal feeding hungry for 20 yrs, sold property to run selfless service

Jagdish Lal Ahuja has been feeding the hungry for two decades

Vishav Bharti

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 25

A chunk of 36 acres, a nine-acre farm, a plot measuring one kanal in Panchkula, a couple of showrooms...and after that Jagdish Lal Ahuja stopped keeping a count of the properties he sold over the past two decades to sustain langar to feed the hungry. On Saturday, he was conferred the Padma Shri for his selfless service.

For 20 years now, Ahuja’s langar outside the PGI here and later at the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Sector 32, would feed nearly 2,500 people a day. The langar, which still continues, was started outside the PGI in January 2000 when Ahuja himself was hospitalised there for the treatment of cancer.

Ahuja often says no one knows better than him what it means to go to bed without food. His story goes back to the Partition, when a 12-year-old Ahuja migrated from Peshawar and stayed at Mansa railway station for weeks. “I have seen such poverty when I was not even sure of getting two square meals. But I never got down to begging. I would survive by selling chanas,” he recalls.

From Mansa, he shifted to Patiala where he would sell candies and bananas in buses. Later, he moved to Kansal on the outskirts of Chandigarh in 1956 where he started selling bananas at the new High Court’s construction site.

Ahuja says he was a fun-loving man like any other person. “It was my son’s birthday and we were having a party. That day, I somehow felt really bad that while we are having a feast, so many people go to bed hungry. So, we made rotis and served to the poor. I then decided to organise a langar everyday,” he recalls.

He soon started distributing bananas among people. On January 21, 2000, he organised a langar outside the PGI. The response was low on the Day 1, but by the fifth day, people started coming, he tells. “For many years, we kept serving daal, roti, chawal and halwa to around 2,000 people daily.” This continued without a day’s break, but it came at a cost.

Ahuja sold a number of properties, including farmlands, showrooms and residential plots. “I had bought them for thousands or lakhs, but they went for crores. He gave and I gave further.” Ahuja tells his inspiration comes from Nanak, “Takadi Nanak di tera-tera tole, you remember?”

Today, various organisations organise langars outside hospitals.

But will his children continue the tradition? “I am selling what was supposed to be passed on to them. So let’s not discuss them,” he says.

In his mid-eighties, Ahuja is not keeping well these days and all that he wonders is: “I am a guest of a few days now. Can the government do something to continue this langar when I won’t be around?”

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