Friday, February 27, 2015

Bharatanatyam and roti-making


“Give us our daily bread...” is a prayer I used to recite a number of times every day until I gave up religion in the mid-1980s.  It was when I gave up reciting the prayer that it became meaningful for me in any way.  Until then I just had to go the dining room at the stroke of the bell and my daily bread would be waiting having taken various avatars like idli or cooked rice or the pan-Indian chapatti with their necessary and delicious accompaniments.  When I took up my first teaching job in Shillong where I stayed all alone in a rented house made of tin and wood, the only cooking I knew was to boil things like rice, vegetables and eggs.  I survived pretty well on the fat-free diet and slimmed down rapidly without spending a single paisa in any calorie-burning centre or on any treadmill.  The daily bread for breakfast came from the nearest baker who eventually advised me to cut down on bread and extend the boiled diet to breakfast too.  “A little bit of rice in the morning is ten times more nourishing than a whole loaf of bread,” he said benignly looking at my sagging shirt.

Eventually I shifted to a slightly better apartment and a colleague of mine started sharing it.  It was he who taught me the art and craft of cooking.  One of the many things I learnt to cook was the roti.  The dough was initially recalcitrant and took the shape of all the continents on the world map when I tried to flatten it into perfect circles.  

One of those days I happened to visit another friend who was in the process of cooking rotis as I entered his small living-cum-bed room adjacent to a significantly larger kitchen.  Most houses in Shillong owned by the Khasis were similar in those days: large living rooms and kitchens and small bedrooms.  They spend all their life in either the kitchen or the living room.  I watched with awe and wonder my friend flattening the dough into perfect circles.  I also noticed how his bum kept rolling as the roti made a double motion beneath the rolling pin: rotating and flattening.  I assumed that the bum had some mysterious connection with the art of roti making.

Back home, I tried to involve my little bum actively as I flattened the dough that evening.  My apartment-mate stared at me for a while and asked, “What are you trying to do?  Practising Tatta Adavu of Bharatanatyam?”

It was then he demonstrated to me the art of making perfectly round rotis.  He showed me how the fingers should be nimble on the rolling pin.  “What should do the Bharatanatyam are your fingers, not your butt,” he said.

I turned out to be a good learner and mastered the Roti Adavu of Bharatanatyam.  The perfectly round rotis were a lot more delicious than those that replicated the shapes of Bharat or Taiwan.

PS. Written off the cuff for the “In(di)spire” column of Indiblogger, but it’s all true, really.



41 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Glad you did. It was interesting for me too to take a walk down the line.

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  2. I was all smiles reading it :) the art and craft of cooking :)

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    1. Life has a lot of humour too, isn't it, Shweta?

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    2. Yes it surely does, ill keep coming to gather smiles :)

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  3. Loved reading it...glad to know that u learned the art of making round rotis...

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    1. ... one of the many lessons made almost redundant by marriage :)

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  4. Loved reading it...glad to know that u learned the art of making round rotis...

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    1. ... one of the many lessons made almost redundant by marriage :)

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  5. hehe.... No connection at all but it reminds me of the situation where one is learning the art of making roti on radio and channel is swinging between teaching bharatanatyam and roti making.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I never realized that the comment was deleted. I was editing it..it was "I vow to stop reading your blogposts if you start writing for blogging contests"

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  7. All of us have tried to learn the art at least once. You made me reminiscence about my attempts of roti making. I feel jealous of your mastery!

    You post is a unique and interesting narration of you efforts.

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    1. My whole life was a big joke, Saket, when I come to think of it. I can 'go' with the joy of having entertained quite many with my life though not with my writing.

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  8. I vow to stop reading your blog if you start taking part in blogging contests :)

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    1. Thanks for returning with the comment. I was a little worried seeing the deletion above :) And thanks a lot for the huge compliment.

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  9. Feeling fresh reading something humorous and non-political on your space in a long time..

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    1. I never wanted to be a political commentator, Roohi. But it has become impossible to live untouched by politics. Glad you liked this.

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  10. Nice read.. Made me smile the whole time I was reading....!!

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    1. A hearty welcome to you to this space, Bhavani.

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  11. hahaa. Roti making is indeed an art.

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  12. Your posts religiously have one thing.Entertainment.:)

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  13. Interesting to read your real-life incident!
    I can identify with Rotis taking the shape of geographical countries & continents :)
    Bharatnatyam indeed!

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    1. There is much to the whole process of roti making which makes it almost a ritual.

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  14. :D
    That's quite an achievement, really. Congratulations.

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  15. Ahhh! It's been a while since I read a light-hearted post on your blog!!

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    1. I'm trying my best to regain that old spirit. But just then my hero lost his cool and barked like a tyrant in the Parliament :)

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  16. Hehe..really enjoyed reading this one. By the way, my rotis always become a live demonstration of Atlas...different maps...:-D But they are tasty nonetheless.

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    1. Maniparna, my wife diagnosed within a few months of marriage that I suffer from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I like perfect shapes. Circles and parabolas have fascinated me more than nondescript political shapes. Taste is in the genes as much as in the acquisition of the skill (or the art) :)

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  17. Good read! Loved reading your experience!

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