Chandigarh, Nov 29 (IANS) A self-made billionaire, who fed tens of thousands of hungry people with a fresh vegetarian meal everyday with his own funds outside the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) here, passed away on Monday at the age of 86.
Popularly known as 'langar baba', Jagdish Lal Ahuja, who was battling cancer, had been serving free food in the langar -- the practice of a free community kitchen and open to all -- across Chandigarh since 1981.
For his philanthropic service to the community at large, he was conferred the Padma Shri last year.
Since 2001, he had been organising a community kitchen daily initially outside the PGI Hospital since 2001. Later, he started it at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Sector 32 too. The langar serves fresh vegetarian meals in the afternoon and late evening.
Every day, food was served to around 2,000 - 2,500 individuals, but on special occasions, that number ccould go as high as 4,000. Even the pandemic had not halted his routine community kitchens. Individuals wait in a queue to get the food.
In 2015, he sold his seventh property worth Rs 1.5 crore to arrange money to offer meals to anyone who shows up.
He was 12 when he left Peshawar and reached India during 1947 partition. After staying in refugee camps initially in Patiala and Amritsar, he finally moved to Chandigarh at the age of 21 and started selling fruits.
Later, he had a roaring business of bananas, known as the "banana king".
About starting the noble gesture of serving the poor, Ahuja was quoted as saying, "At my son's eighth birthday, I decided to celebrate it by organising a 'langar' for children. When I saw the joy on the faces of the children, it reminded me of my childhood. I then decided to organise 'langar' every day."
"Since then, I am holding the 'langar' without a miss."
His afternoon and evening 'langars', which are desperately awaited by the poor and even patients' attendants at both the city's prominent hospitals, serve 'dal', 'chapatti', rice, 'halwa' and a banana.
Also, he served biscuits to cancer patients and toffees, lollipops and balloons to children.
Condoling his demise, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi said: "His selfless gesture of providing free food and medicines to poor and needy at the PGIMER will ever inspire others for such noble service."
Even on the day of his death, the langar service continued as per his wish.
With prayers on lips and wet eyes, the poor and patients' attendants wished the continuation of the selfless service even in his absence and they believe he will remain in their hearts forever for his selfless service.