Too many Sikh chefs spoil tsunami broth in Tamil Nadu

Agence France Presse

Nagapattinam, January 14:

India’s Sikh community dispatched 110 chefs from northern Punjab state to the tsunami-battered southern coast only to be told that the survivors would not eat what they cook.

In Tamil Nadu state, where the tsunamis killed some 8,000 people, villagers live on a staple diet of rice and, if they are lucky, fish.

Unlike people from northern India they do not eat wheat bread, potatoes or meat. “A big army of Sikhs from Punjab have arrived to help the affected people,” said local government official Shanta Seela Nair, head of rehabilitation operations in Nagapattinam district, the worst-hit in the December 26 tragedy. “They wanted to set up community kitchens and we told them the food they cook will not be eaten by the local people. Instead the cooks can be used as volunteers for help in other areas,” Nair said.

“But they also need to eat their own food. So we let them set up a kitchen at a college ground,” she said.According to Sikh tradition, “langaars” or community kitchens, offer free food to the poor and needy across north India where the religion was founded in the late 15th century. The Sikhs, resplendent in blue, orange and white turbans, travelled more than 2,500 km by train. Trucks, loaded with donated rice, wheat flour, potatoes, onions, cooking stoves and gas cylinders followed them down. Nair, the state’s senior administrator, said “perishable goods” such as wheat flour and rice were sent to remote villages. “Their intention was good but they did not bother to find out whether local villagers like what they cook,” she said. The 300-strong Sikh or “disciple” team includes 110 cooks, 40 doctors and the remainder volunteeer support staff. They were organised from the religion’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The doctors have plied their trade from village to village while the cooks have had to muck in on general relief work. “We are a bit disappointed,” said chef Kuldeep Singh Nassupur. “Despite all this, some people still walk in to the langaar asking for food and we never say no.” One of his colleagues Hardeep Singh said that during a disaster the most important factor for the Sikh religion was serving the needy. “It is our duty to help our brothers. It does not matter whether they come to our kitchen or not. We are here to serve,” he said.