“Don’t ask me about my childhood. I won’t be able to narrate that time,” said 83-year-old Jagdish Lal Ahuja, in a voice choked with emotion. In 1947, a 12-year-old boy born in Peshawar, Pakistan, came over to this side during the Partition. The event not only took away his birthplace from him, but his childhood […]
“Don’t ask me about my childhood. I won’t be able to narrate that time,” said 83-year-old Jagdish Lal Ahuja, in a voice choked with emotion. In 1947, a 12-year-old boy born in Peshawar, Pakistan, came over to this side during the Partition. The event not only took away his birthplace from him, but his childhood too.
Popularly Known as ‘Langar Baba’, is searching among hundreds of poor kids whom he has been feeding over 3 decades.
He sold his seventh property worth ₹1.6 crore to arrange money for his noble initiative. He has sold six other such properties worth crores to ensure that the poor do not go to bed on an empty stomach.
Ahuja was the only breadwinner of the family as his father did not work and his mother was a homemaker. “Everyday, I walked three miles barefoot to buy namkeen dal for ₹1 and sold it for ₹1 and 2 aane at stations. I made two such rounds daily and earned ₹2 and 2 aane. By the time I got home, my feet and hand would be full of blisters, but I still had to earn or else I would go hungry for days,” he said, his voice choking up.
He never went to school in Peshawar even though he could afford to do so. He said, “My father beat me up if I studied and teachers beat me up in school because I would not have done my homework. So, yes, I could not study; my childhood was horrifying.”
From selling namkeen dal at the stations in Amritsar to selling toffees, jaggery, and fruits on the streets of Patiala, Ahuja continued working and fought hard when faced with hardships.
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. (Anil Dayal)
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
At 21, he moved to Chandigarh after a fight with his family. Here, he started buying and selling fruits. His journey in the new city that started from the purchase of a cart of oranges for ₹15 turned into an enterprise worth crores.
He bought his first property, a house in Sector 22, in 1965-66 for ₹4,000. He recently sold this property to fund the langar. Since he had a business of selling bananas, he was often known as the “banana king”. Soon, he was became popular as ‘langar wale baba’.
Talking about how he began this initiative, Ahuja said, “It was my son’s eighth birthday and I wanted to celebrate it by giving to the society. So, I decided to organise a langar for children.”
“We cooked food for 150 children and served it in the market in Sector 26. The moment I saw the joy on the faces of the children, it reminded me of my childhood. I then announced that this langar will be held daily,” he added.
YEARS OF SERVICE
He said, “It was on Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday that I wanted to distribute halwa and was wondering which place I should choose to set up. I was passing through PGIMER and saw a boy serving rice to the poor; that’s where I got the idea.”
Since then, baba’s langar is part of a routine at PGIMER. Between 6pm and 6.30pm, a black van stops outside gate number 2 of PGIMER and a stall is set up. In no time, people queue up for food. The langar outside GMCH-32 is organised in the afternoon.
“Not a single day has passed in the last 17 years that this langar was not organised outside PGIMER. We serve dal, chapatti, rice, halwa and banana. Apart from this, we also serve biscuits to cancer patients and kurkure, toffees, lollipops with whistles and balloons to children,” said Ahuja.
NO FAVOURS FROM OTHERS
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.
“I have never sought a favour from anyone, but can only expect some help from the government. Kindly convey my message to the governor that I might need his help in continuing the langar in the near future,” said Ahuja.