“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.