Most of us are worried about our shapes. Some of us are never satisfied and always look for improvement somewhere: too thin here, too fat there, not rounded in the right places… If you look hard enough and inspect everything closely, you are bound to find fault, aren’t you?
Just in case you think I refer to the human form and yearn for an hourglass figure or a six-pack/eight-pack or a well-toned and obviously worked out body, let me make it clear. It is not the perfect circle I now present that bothers me. Well, not as much as it should, anyway.
Rather, it is something we Indians have cared about – unnecessarily, I think – for generations.
Yes, it is the shape of the ubiquitous chapatti that concerns us and in some cases occupies our thoughts and deeds three times a day – at breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Our childhood went in eating a lot of chapattis – but we never really noticed their shape because we were too eager to pop them into our mouths along with the rest of the food on our plates. It was only much later, when we were in our teens, that we began to appreciate shapes because we had to help to form them!
At first, we just did a part of the work, kneaded a bit or rolled a bit or patted a bit and left it to the adult in the house to “correct” or “improve” whatever shapes we had produced. For some reason, we hit on a triangular shape as the easiest to roll – maybe because we were pretty triangular ourselves at the time, torn between home, studies and friendships and not able to decide which one we wanted to spend most of our time on.
Then, in what seemed to be an inevitable progression of events in life, we reached the stage where we had to make those chapattis entirely on our own – and suddenly, an even-sided, equilateral triangle was difficult to achieve, so was a well-proportioned square, and as for a circle, everyone could just forget about that!
Chapatti making soon became the ultimate test of patience and skill – and I for one failed miserably. Unfortunately, by this time, I was in the deep North of the country, where food meant chapattis, and bread and rice were considered “unhealthy” choices that kept all those nooks and crannies in the stomach empty, and had no nutritional value. It was common for friends to come over unexpectedly, even at ten in the night, and expect an impromptu meal. If nothing else was available from the depths of our usually well-stocked deep freeze, they were willing to “settle” for “just chapattis and eggs,” they would say.
Of course, they never got it in our home. Chapattis were the ultimate luxury for visitors and inmates of the house alike, and I would happily whip out (or even whip up) a chicken curry or a pea pilau or brownies – but chapattis were out of the question. There was no way I would knead and roll and fry in the middle of the night – or at any other time, for that matter – and allow hungry guests to ask for “one more”.
As the family expanded, both child and pet were raised more on rice and brown bread than on chapattis – and everything went fairly smoothly until the child encountered his friends’ lunch boxes in school and realised that his was “different”. Luckily for me, he didn’t come home in a raging temper and demand the same kind of food the others ate. Probably because he knew my limitations, he did the next best thing: He distributed homemade cakes and bakes and cookies to his friends – and helped himself to their chapattis and accompaniments!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.