86-year-old restaurateur Mrs Anant Kaur Sandhu is the only Punjabi-origin person to be named in the 2018 Australia Day Honours list. Since 1996, she has served freshly-cooked meals to dozens of homeless people, every Thursday at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Square.
Known fondly as “Mrs Singh”, Mrs Anant Kaur Sandhu is a recipient of an AM, or 'Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia.'
She tells SBS Punjabi "I can’t believe it. I’m just an ordinary person. Why me?”
Born into a Punjabi family established in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mrs Sandhu moved to Australia 42 years ago.
“The children had come here to study and they wanted to stay on Australia," she explains. "So we looked at coming here as well.”
“A friend living in Adelaide sponsored us, and that’s how we arrived in the city in 1976.”
“I was in my late 40s when we opened Jasmin restaurant in the year 1980. On 18 January this year, we celebrated 38 years of the restaurant.
"Although I didn’t have formal training in hospitality, but I was always interested in food and cooking.
"My mother was a fantastic chef and I was inspired by her.”
Many famous cricketers have known to frequent the restaurant over the years.
Mrs Sandhu says, “Indian cricketers like Nawab of Pataudi, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri have come to our restaurant regularly."
"Several players from the English and West Indian teams have also come by."
Mrs Sandhu recalls how John Howard once came to her restaurant many many years ago. "He signed our book as ‘the next Prime Minister,' and sure enough, he did go on to become the next Prime Minister of Australia.”
The restaurant has won many awards including Savour Australia HOST Plus Restaurant and Catering Best Indian Restaurant in South Australia, Restaurant and Catering Industry Association (South Australia), 2008 and 2013.
But it is her penchant for selfless service, and the determination to “give back to the community that has always supported us," that has led to this years Australia Day Honour for Mrs Sandhu.
Since 1996, dozens of homeless people come to the parkland outside her restaurant every Thursday, and they are served freshly cooked food.
“This food is made especially for them, so it isn’t very spicy, and we cater for people with allergies," she says.
"Usually, we pack rice, vegetables and meat (or seafood) in a plastic container and give it to the homeless.
"When we first started, we had 30-40 people coming for the the meal, but now, we serve around 70-80 people weekly.”
Mrs Sandhu recalls how this came about in 1996. “We have a parkland in front of our restaurant," she explains.
"Anglicare used to bring homeless people there every now and then, and serve some sausages, and maybe chops.
"One cold evening, I looked at them and thought, how do they survive with this?”
Mrs Sandhu spoke to Anglicare and they agreed to having food from the restaurant served on a weekly basis, and that’s how it all began.
“Every Christmas, we serve them a feast – ham, turkey, fried chicken, prawns, pies cakes soft drinks and more."
"We generally have more than 100 people for the Christmas meal.”
“I know its only one meal we serve, but I think makes a difference in their lives,” said Mrs Sandhu.
She added, “We must do whatever little we can for the community around us."
"This is a very small initiative and we certainly didn’t do this to win any award. But everyone must give back.
Sharing her philosophy in life Mrs Sandhu says, "Work hard and be nice to people."
"Somebody maybe poor today, but they could have had better days previously."
"We have some people who come for meals, who were once placed in good positions. So you must treat everyone – the rich and the poor – equally!"
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