LARSON: Duluth diner owner wrapped up in good works

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

Every morning, Mohan Bagga wraps his head with a five-meter-long strip of cloth. It may be maroon, navy, white or whatever color strikes his mood. The color doesn't matter as long as every strand of his hair is covered in keeping with his Sikh faith.

But as old world as his turban may appear to be, the Sikh religion is very progressive and its followers very enlightened and educated.

"We are two percent of the Indian population, but we make up 10 percent of the armed forces and we grow 80 percent of the food. We are not vegetarians. We have no caste system. We believe everyone is all equal," Bagga said.

He likes to point out in a clipping from a 1972 National Geographic magazine that Bern Keating wrote, "The Sikhs are the Texans of India."

"We are a very energetic people and we work to make our world a better place," Bagga said.

He holds an industrial management degree from Georgia Tech and a law degree from India, but for most of his life he's worked in the food industry, including Catfish King, Gigi's Pizza, Colorado Mining Company and KFC.

When Bagga and his wife Veena moved here in 1968, they were the only two Sikhs in living Atlanta. But they proved to be good ambassadors for the 400 Sikh families who live here now.

"I lived in New York for a while. When I moved south, they said people down here would discriminate against me because of my turban, but I have never had that experience. I find people very friendly. Even Lester Maddox was friendly to me," he said, then added with a grin, "And he liked my chicken."

Bagga now owns the Georgia Diner in Duluth, where he proudly displays framed photographs of himself with Jimmy Carter and Colonel Sanders behind the cash register.

Bagga's diner is open 24/7 and offers cultural cuisine from Matzoth ball soup to Beef Stroganoff to chicken souvlaki, which along with that chicken that impressed Maddox are all prepared from scratch.

But enough about what Bagga does for a living. Let's get on to that Sikh spirit of making the world a better place.

In 1988, he helped found the Universal Humanitarian Foundation.

"It is a secular organization with the prime objective of providing education and healthcare in the United States, India and Bangladesh for the poor and needy. UHF has been giving scholarships to Indian students in the field of medicine, engineering, pharmacy, computer science and dentistry and it also operates 25 schools for poor children in India," Bagga said. "We are now working to build a hospital in India to serve the needy and also create jobs for unemployed people. We also provide financial help for impoverished schools in the United States and plan to build shelters for the homeless," Bagga says of this mission, which in true Sikh fashion, he is very wrapped up in.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.