Musings from a reluctant roti maker

The other night, as Constant Companion aka Hassled Harry snored away on his side of the bed, I lay, tossing turning and sweating away. For once, it was not my menopausal hot flush. This was much worse. I felt breathless and there was a  strange tightness around the chest. I woke up above- mentioned companion who turned in his sleep and growled : “You are not having a heart attack. You are just worried the maid is on vacation and you don’t want to make your own rotis. Just accept you are not capable of making rotis and go to sleep.” Having delivered this massive put down, he pulled his pillow over his head and commenced his noisy,  reversing- tractor- act.  If smothering spouse with pillow during panic attack would be a non-cognizable offence for menopausal mavens, there would be one spouse less in the world for sure.

I woke up early yesterday and decided this was going to be the day I proved the spouse wrong and managed to get a roti right. No, he did not have the slightest inkling I was smarting about his unkind remark about my roti- unworthiness; I shrewdly hid that under my sweetest smile. In fact, I made him a mango milkshake for breakfast, a feat so unusual that I caught him eyeing  me suspiciously a couple of times. “She is up to something,” I could hear him think. Which probably explains why he made it out of the door in record time, instead of putting on the usual hang dog expression when he has to leave for work. Better safe than sorry, I presume, is what he thought.

Just as soon as his car disappeared round the corner, I was in the kitchen, getting ready to face the challenge.  The aata dabba was out in a jiffy, 2 cups of flour in a pan, add some salt and water. Before I knew it there was a gooey mass in the pan and my right arm was stuck right in the centre of it. No worries, this is simple, I said and added some more flour and a couple of spoons of oil. The hand came unstuck from the gooey mess and I proceeded to quell the stubborn dough into submission. Twenty minutes later I had Deepika Padukon’s worked out arms and enough dough to feed a starving army. Funny? Not really. Not if you have to roll the damn rotis yourself and retrieve your injured pride from that.

Life is our best teacher, I often tell my friends. Your best lessons are learnt from your failures, I tell those who pay me money to listen to my talks. Pause for a while and listen to what your mind is saying and you will have learnt a lot, I tell young people.

I have had ample time to do all of this since yesterday, when my great roti adventure began. Our biggest stumbling block is fear of failure, I often say and so, when I made the first roti yesterday, I tackled the fear , took a deep breath and put rolling pin to sticky atta. Not surprisingly, no miracle roti emerged on the board. The first 10 attempts or so my insides were jelly when the atta spread itself out gloriously into the map of an as- yet- undiscovered country. When I proceeded to gingerly take it off the board, it stuck on for dear life till I had to roll it all up into a ball and start all over again.

I eventually made 6 rotis and even though it felt like an achievement deserving of a round of drinks, I know it was not exactly Michelin-star chef sort of Roti. Not that I think Michelin star chefs make rotis, but you get the drift of what I’m trying to say here.

Over the last 3 roti making sessions, I have paused and pondered over many things and learnt a few lessons too.

For instance, if, at 50, I am struggling to make a roti and make myself self-reliant, is that cause for embarrassment? Or should I be proud I am doing it? Do most people know how to make a roti? When I was 16 and ran around the neighbourhood with various pimply youth , my mother would warn me : “Learn something in the kitchen. You will know the worth of that when you have kids of your own.” I would laugh at her and say: “I will always have you. Or, I will find someone who will feed me.”

Now that I have a pastry chef for a daughter, my mom says it is nature’s way of protecting its children. If my daughter had depended on me to feed her, she would probably have starved! You can’t win an argument with my mother.

Be that as it may, here are my musings as I stood over the tawa, willing it to produce at least one, round- as- the- moon roti, the kind that would make my man buy me a solitaire, pronto. He was saved the cost because the said moon-like roti never emerged.

As for my musings, here goes:

If everybody has to know something in the kitchen, does that mean Kareena Kapoor, for instance, knows how to make a roti? Or an aloo paratha?  Or a chicken curry? Heck, does she know how to boil and egg? Does Shah Rukh Khan get breakfast for Abram? Does Virendra Sehwag or Shahid Kapur know to make porridge for themselves?

As I pummelled the dough into soft submission, I remembered what my physio told me years ago about my nagging shoulder pain. “Make your own rotis. The process will strengthen your shoulders and arms and the pain will be gone in no time at all.” My shoulders were screaming murder last evening but this morning , I feel light and relaxed after my roti-making session. I don’t how the eater of the rotis- the man of the house- will eat the rotis though- they are stiff and cardboard like and I suspect the neighbour’s dog will turn its nose up and walk away if I offered one. My man of the house, thankfully,  has no such airs. He is happy to eat whatever the hausfrau has prepared, even though he really has to struggle to keep a straight face while seeming to enjoy my culinary creations.

Meanwhile, my friends with children of marriageable age (What is that?) bring me endless stories about the adventures of trying to get their offspring hitched. One mother of a 28-year-old boy recently had a young woman and her mother visit, in response to a matrimonial ad they had placed. “The mother sat across the sofa from me and told me, in no uncertain terms,  that her daughter was a doctor and had no intention of cooking anything at all. “Your son will have to make arrangements for the food in the house,” the lady told my friend and proceeded to demand a copy of her son’s bank passbook so that she could verify his financial condition.  And this, when my poor friend insists she had not even remotely demanded that a prospective bride would have to take on cooking responsibilities !

I know a young Indian couple, both very dear to me, who live in a far-off country and are busy professionals. “Every evening we open the fridge and look at it desperately, willing it to conjure up some tasty morsels for us. When nothing happens, we either make a sandwich or dial in food,” one of them told me recently.

My fledgling, meanwhile, is living the life Marie- Antoinette envisaged for the masses. “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake.” Which is exactly the pastry chef daughter is doing: she bakes fine pastry for a living and I suspect most of her meals are made of that. Dal, chawal, roti? What is that?

Two days into my roti making adventure and I am already yearning for my Sarla back. I am grateful for her presence in my life, her ability to turn up at my door come rain or shine and give me nourishing food. Like me, she is not a very gifted in culinary art but her ability to turn up every single day and give me my daily meal, deserves much appreciation. I have had the time to ponder over the fact that Sarla does the same thing in five other homes every single day plus at her own home and I am full of admiration for her determination and commitment to her career, no matter how much the drudgery involved. Sarla is living embodiment of what motivational speakers tell us all the time : Look at the positive side of things, complain less, accept the realities of your life if you can’t change it and always, always, smile. It lessens the burden.

Enough of my musings now. Time to plan the next meal …….

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