Jagdish Lal Ahuja (85), popularly called ''Langar Baba,'' who served food to poor patients and their attendants for years outside the premiere health institutes, received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of the country awarded for exceptional and distinguished service in any field.
Ahuja was shortlisted in the field of social work and is being awarded for "selflessly organising langars for 500-plus poor patients daily for over two decades in Chandigarh."
85-year-old Ahuja, known as "Langar Baba," spent the last 19 years of his life serving free food to the poor patients outside Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh.
Having started organising langars across the city in 1981, Ahuja eventually moved to PGIMER, Sector 12, and Government Medical College and Hospital(GMCH), Sector 32, in 2001.
People in long queues wait for the meals which consist of dal, chapatti, rice, halwa and banana. Besides, snacks that include biscuits are given to the cancer patients and toffees, balloons to the children. Similar langar is organised outside GMCH in the afternoon.
At least 2,500 people a day are fed through the organised langar. This tradition was started outside the PGIMER in January 2000 when Ahuja himself was hospitalised there for his cancer treatment.
Ahuja believes his past experiences moved him to start the langar service. His story goes back to the times of Partition, a 12-year-old Ahuja who was born in Peshawar, Pakistan had Mansa railway station as his home for weeks after migration. In spite of poverty, he never got down to begging and would survive doing odd jobs.
From Mansa where he used to sell chanas, 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 sold bananas.
It was during his son's birthday celebrations when the realization hit him hard. On one hand where his family enjoyed a feast, many on the other side faced poverty and starvation. Since then, he has been organising langar every day.
There are no free lunches in this life, and Ahuja's efforts came with a cost too.
A self-made billionaire, he had to sell a number of properties including farmlands, showrooms and residential plots to make sure that he continues his mission and keep the poor patients well-fed. He also provides patients with other support including financial assistance to blankets and clothes.
In an interview with The Indian Express, he said that he was informed about the Padma Shri from media persons. He was unaware of who recommended his name and how it was accepted but he wanted the government to provide him relaxations in the income tax so that his family can continue the langar service after his death.