Maharaja, the oldest Indian restaurant in Budapest, has been serving free meals to Indian students being evacuated from war-torn Ukraine via the Hungarian capital.
Kulvinder Singh Jham , the restaurant owner, said being a devout Sikh, he immediately opened a langar (community kitchen) to serve the free food. “It was Monday. I did not realize their numbers would increase so rapidly. On Tuesday, 300 students arrived in Budapest. On Wednesday afternoon, we prepared 800 meals and at night another 1,500 students arrived,” Jham told Hindustan Times over the phone.
Jham, who has lived in Europe for 40 years and set up Maharaja in 1994, said the students were expecting help from the Indian Embassy. “The embassy initially provided readily available food such as sandwiches, but the students needed warm cooked food. Many of them were starved and traumatized.”
Jham said the students went through terrible experiences. “Some boys said they were offered money and rifles to fight for Ukraine. All were stopped by soldiers at the border because Ukraine does not allow men aged between 16 and 60 to leave the country. The students had to prove that they are not Ukraine nationals. Most of them preferred to board trains to Hungary thinking the Russians might stop and confiscate buses heading for Romania and Poland.”
He said Hungary allowed entry without visa and set up registration centers. “Train fares have also been done away with. A terminal at the airport has been opened only for Indian students.” Jham said Indian ambassador Kumar Tuhin’s tenure ended and he returned to Delhi in November. “Since there was no ambassador here when the crisis began, the government sent him back because he is acquainted with the ground situation.”
Jham said they met Tuhin and Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who appreciated the idea of setting up the langar. “The government is evacuating the students. A thousand of them are scheduled to leave on Friday.”
Jham said he has around a dozen employees and packing the food was a problem but friends and neighbors volunteered to help. “I wake up at 4 am and start getting ingredients for the meals.” Jham said the plight of the students has touched them and many of them start crying on seeing friendly people. “They cannot seem to believe that their nightmare is over.” (Source: Hindustan Times)