Shivam Thakur still cannot stop thinking about the delicious food he ate at a langar recently. The lingering taste of the langar, with a dash of patriotism, refuses to go away.
“Dhabe se khana hazaar guna achchha tha (The food was thousand times better than the dhaba fare),” says Shivam, a resident of Nauni village in Bilaspur district, Himachal Pradesh.
Ankit Chaudhary, too, is all praise for the langar. “Khana bahut achchha tha (The food was excellent),” says Ankit from Kanfara village in Bilaspur district.
The two are referring to the langar which was organised during the Army recruitment rally held at Una in January. Like them, countless others — from within and outside the hilly state — too liked the langar which was organised for the candidates taking part in the rally, and it ran for six days with three meals a day.
There was instant appreciation as parents of many candidates served at the langar and many of them conveyed their gratitude over the phone to the organisers after the rally. “We got several phone calls from the parents. Many of them told us on coming back home, their sons returned money they were given for the rally,” says Hari Om Gupta, chairman, Una Janhit Morcha, which performs the last rites of unclaimed bodies at Haridwar.
The Army authorities, too, appreciated the initiative. “It was a very good thing. They provided free food and lodging for candidates. It happened for the first time in Himachal Pradesh,” says Colonel Satish Kumar, posted at Hamirpur.
The biggest round of applause came from the district administration. Una Deputy Commissioner Sandeep Kumar honoured the members of the Una Janhit Morcha at the Republic Day function.
In fact, it was after the DC’s intervention that the langar could be organised. “We had been trying in vain to organise langar during recruitment rallies for the last several years. But every time we tried, we were turned away by the Army authorities,” says Gupta. “This time, DC sahib made it possible for us.”
While the rally was held at the Indira Ground, the langar was prepared and served at the adjacent college ground.
The idea, Gupta says, was that no candidate should sleep on an empty stomach — and on roadside. “I was always pained to see candidates being fleeced and sleeping on roadsides,” Gupta says.
The food was without onions and garlic as it was first offered to the Almighty. “The food was very good, simple and hygienic,” says Monika Singh, a social worker, who served at the langar and also contributed financially. “Mostly, candidates from poor families come for recruitment. The langar took care of them all.”
Lodging arrangements for the candidates were made at Baba Bal Ashram, Kotla Kalan, Gurdwara Shaheedan, Una, and Bhai Jawahar Singh Gurdwara, Una. Businessman Prabhjot Singh Khalsa threw open to the candidates his recently constructed three-storey building near the Indira Ground.
“It was a personal decision. I thought I too should do something for them. Around 600 candidates stayed in my building every day,” Khalsa says.
Rajiv Bhanot, president, Una Janhit Morcha, claims on average, every day around 6,000 to 9,000 people, including candidates and their kin, ate meals at the langar.
As the crowds swelled, there was a surge of emotion as well. Volunteers of Yuva Seva Club and Shri Ramleela Committee came forward and served at the langar every day. Rattan Halwai, the caterer, decided not to charge a single penny. He paid his cooks from his own pocket. “Bahut maza aaya, langar aisa hi hona chahiye (I enjoyed it a lot. The langar should be like this only),” he says.
Dr. Subhash Kumar Sharma, general secretary, Shri Ramlila Committee, says, “Sab kuchchh fauj ke liye kiya (We did it all for the Army).”
Notary Keshav Chandel did his own bit. There was a new requirement for the candidates to submit affidavits in support of their documents. So, one day, Chandel got phone calls at 5 in the morning. He rushed to the Indira Ground and signed affidavits he could not keep count of. He was stuck there till afternoon. “If 10 candidates whose affidavits I signed get through, I think my effort will be fruitful,” says Chandel, who didn’t charge anything for attesting the affidavits.
Dr. Rudermani Sharma, retired district Ayurveda officer, donated Rs. 11,000 to the langar to celebrate his 75th birthday.
DC Kumar and his colleague Additional Deputy Commissioner Arindam Chaudhary too could not hold themselves back and served langar on different occasions. “It was a wonderful example of community participation. Normally, Army recruitment rallies see chaos. But this was a smooth affair — all because of the locals’ concern for the candidates and the country,” the DC says.
At the langar, the day would begin with chai and pakoras, and end with bonhomie around bonfires — with patriotic songs being sung by everyone. “Those days were extremely cold. But we got warmth all around,” Bhanot says.
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