Kulvinder Singh Jham, the owner of the restaurant, said that being a devout Sikh, he immediately opened a langar (community kitchen) to serve the food.
Maharaja, Budapest’s oldest Indian restaurant, serves free meals to Indian students evacuated from war-torn Ukraine via the Hungarian capital.
Kulvinder Singh Jham, the owner of the restaurant, said that being a devout Sikh, he immediately opened a langar (community kitchen) to serve the free food. “It was Monday. I hadn’t realized that their numbers would increase so quickly. On Tuesday, 300 students arrived in Budapest. On Wednesday afternoon we prepared 800 meals and at night another 1,500 students arrived,” Jham told HT by phone.
Jham, who has lived in Europe for 40 years and set up Maharaja in 1994, said the students expected help from the Indian embassy. “The Embassy initially provided readily available food such as sandwiches, but the students needed hot ready meals. Many of them were starving and traumatized.
Jham said the students had terrible experiences. “Some boys said they were offered money and guns to fight for Ukraine. All were stopped by soldiers at the border because Ukraine does not allow men between the ages of 16 and 60 to leave the country. Students had to prove that they were not Ukrainian nationals. Most of them preferred to board the trains to Hungary thinking that the Russians might stop and confiscate the buses heading for Romania and Poland.
He said Hungary allows visa-free entry and has set up registration centres. “Train fares have also been abolished. A terminal at the airport has been opened for Indian students only. Jham said Indian Ambassador Kumar Tuhin’s tenure had ended and he returned to Delhi in November. “As there was no ambassador here when the crisis started, the government fired him because he knows the situation on the ground.”
Jham said he met Tuhin and Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri who liked the idea of creating the langar. “The government is evacuating students. A thousand of them are due to leave on Friday.
Jham said he had a dozen employees and packing food was a problem, but friends and neighbors volunteered to help. “I wake up at 4 a.m. and start looking for ingredients for meals.” Jham said the plight of the students touched them and many of them started crying when they saw nice people. “They can’t believe their nightmare is over.”
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