For the last 16 years, 81-year-old Jagdish Lal Ahuja, a well-known figure, has been serving free food to hundreds of poor patients and attendants every day outside the PGI and the Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh. The “baba’s langar,” as it is known, has never taken a break although there have been several occasions when Jagdish Lal was on the verge of running out of personal funds. Each time there was a crunch, Jagdish Lal sold one of his properties in the city to raise money and carry on with the philanthropic activity.
Born in Peshawar, Jagdish Lal came to Patiala during the partition in 1947, when he was only 12 years old. He started selling toffees to earn a living. In 1956, he came to Chandigarh with a few rupees in his pocket. He started selling bananas on a cart. Gradually he became the “banana king,” of the city.
In a 2015 report in The Indian Express, even as the langar turned 15 on January 21 in 2015, Jagdish Lal dipped into his reserves to keep it going. He had sold another property, seventh to be precise, for Rs 1.60 crore, to carry the mission forward. “Ab yeh langar nahi rukega… jab tak main zinda hun, Baba ka langar chalta rahega,” said Jagdish Lal.
Jagdish Lal started his philanthropic activities around 36 years ago. On the 8th birth anniversary of his elder son, Jagdish Lal 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 a few poor children who used to gather outside his shop in the 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 Jagdish Lal.
Since then, every day thousands of people are served free meal outside the two government hospitals. “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,” stated Jagdish Lal. Besides free meals, Jagdish Lal also distributes free blankets, sweaters, shoes and socks to the poor.