New Delhi: While the US Army holds fort in battleground Iraq, it’s hundreds of Indians who make sure the soldiers are all fuelled up to go.
Indian cooks are in great demand in the battle zone and are “smuggled” there by local agents with impunity.
Rasoolshah Nagoor Meeranpillai is one of them. Meeranpillai who hails from Tamil Nadu, whipped up an elaborate meal of pancakes, butter noodles, lasagne and many more delicacies for over 10,000 American soldiers daily for two years.
Meeranpillai belongs to the remote Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu and claims he can cook “everything continiental.”
"We woke up daily at 5 am to prepare breakfast for over 10,000 American soldiers. They ate eggs, pancakes and fruits for breakfast. For the other two meals, they wanted chicken, butter noodles, macaroni, lasagne, beef, and caramel custard. It was continental," Meeranpillai was quoted as saying by daily DNA.
He also earned a certificate of appreciation by the military and is currently back in India after a two-year stint with at the Al-Asad air base in Iraq.
Meeranpillai is among hundreds of Indian cooks recruited by agencies in Mumbai to feed the 1,35,000 US troops stationed in Iraq.
Meeranpillai says he got “tempted” to go to Iraq because of a promise of a salary in dollars. He was sent to Iraq via Jordan and admits he was warned not to reveal his destination when he boarded the flight.
“Agents told me to tell airport officials that I was going to work as a cook in Jordan. In the plane, I saw 150 Indians going for the same job. Don’t the authorities realise that so many cooks are not required in Jordan?”
Once there, Meeranpillai was made to stay in Amman for a week before being taken to Al Asad in Iraq.
He slogged from dawn to midnight and had only American television channels for entertainment, apart from the occasional Tamil film CDs that were couriered to him by friends back in India.
Today Meernapillai feels cheated and says he and others were “fooled by the agents”. He is back in India with only $1,000.
Agents under fire
However, now eyebrows are being raised over Meeranpillai’s “recruitment” in the US, despite India's policy not to expose its nationals to the war and terror in Iraq.
It’s the “agents” in Mumbai who hire people for international firms for providing contract workers to organisations operating in dangerous areas. War zone Iraq is one of them
However, these agents have time and again denied sending anyone to work in Iraq. One such agent - Satyajit Prasad of Jasper International - admitted the newspaper that his agency does send workers to Kuwait, Dubai and Amman, but nowhere else. “We do not send anyone directly to Iraq. We do not know if other agents take workers from these places to Iraq,” he was quoted as saying.
According to MoS External Affairs, Government also sent directives to “agents” warning they will be blacklisted if evidence is found against them.
However, the government has also pleaded helplessness in preventing workers from being taken indirectly to Iraq via neighbouring states.
“We cannot send the Indian military to prevent our people from going to Iraq. They are going at their own risk and cost,” Ahmed told DNA.
However, despite the appeals, many Indians continue to land in Kuwait and Jordan every day to be recruited by American army and air force bases in Iraq.