Prof (Dr) Viyatprajna Acharya
After another decade probably Women’s Day celebration will lose its significance when women won’t be craving for gender equality as much as they are doing it today and then while reading this article many will be quite amused. Whoa! What a sorry state of affairs was it then!
When I entered into my in-laws’ house their criteria of judging a bride’s capability was still the same…how nicely you cover your head with a hand-length pallu (ODHANA in Odia), how you walk, which foot you put forward first, could you add correct amount of salt in “Saaga” (green leafy vegetables) or not and whether you can cook finger-licking fish curry or not. Obviously, I would have failed in all those tests that I hardly cared for those days. What concerned me more was my preparation for PG entrance that was dangling like an open sword over my head. Neither I liked the pallu (forget about hand-length, just putting it on my head on the hot and sultry mid-June made me drench in sweat like anything), nor my fast gait would have pleased my in-laws. I used to be a loner and a very fast walker, always competing against my own speed in all aspects of life. Now who cares about left and right foot when I was cribbing in pain due to the injury caused by my new anklets (PAUNJI in Odia)! Probably I would have added correct amount of salt in Saaga as I have a strong intuition. But fish curry! I used to run away with the strong fishy smell those days and just maintained non-veg eating with earnest request from my mother so as to adjust at in-laws’ house; an attribute that all girls have to acquire because it is them who have to go and adjust to an absolute strange environment. However, all tests passed and accepted by all family members. Felt like clearing level 1 of Mario video game.
The main problem started when I returned for a second time. I was used to the “Vidyarthi panchalakshana”, 5 attributes of a student…Waking up at 4:30 every day (Shwana nidra, very thin sleep like a dog), taking a quick shower (Kaaka snana, bathing like a crow), studying with intense concentration i.e. “baka Dhyana” (there’s no other go for Medicos to study like a crane eyeing for a fish), “swalpahari” (eating very less) and Gruhatyagi (though I was staying at home, actual stay was negligible, most of the time was spent in hospital or library). But here I was thrusted to the exactly opposite scenario. The most bugging part was to always think about what to cook for the next meal and how was the meal that is being fed. I felt like pulled back from Bishuddha chakra to Muladhara chakra back.
My cooking skills were basically built upon eating experiences and observational internship and here I was to begin practice directly and prove all my training and expertise that I had inculcated from my mother. Well, with lot of confidence stepped in to the kitchen, having different feel of heavier utensils and different tools. But by grace of our arduous curriculum and past experience of “Community medicine” duty periphery exposure, I had incurred some good confidence and knack to adjust to any kind of situation. Cooked few delicious curries but newer assignments were added up. I felt myself like that fairytale princess who was given more assignments to take out gravels from rice grains every night in increasing proportion. But here I was my own fairy.
Then came “Roti” making (Indian bread, chapati) and I was presented a football size dough to make Rotis out of it. Now I am a queer person who likes doing things that most people get easily irritated and roti making was one of them. My MIL satisfied with my rolling skills, offered me to help in baking them on gas stove. I was a bit relieved to get some helping hand. But that perception soon vanished as MIL started bragging about Rotis not getting ballooned up as they should be. An obedient and sincere Bohu as I was, I started scanning my Rotis again…no absolutely perfect…all evenly rolled from all sides, round too….then suddenly my eyes caught the mistake….ahh, she was baking them on slow flame.
By that time hearing the commotion from kitchen my newly-wed hubby was loitering around to scan the scene and was apprehensive that his doctor-wife might not have been properly engineered for the kitchen probably. By that time younger BIL also had passed on some advice on Roti-making.
Then I pointed out the flaw, made my MIL sit before the TV and did the entire thing —rolling, baking on tawa and puffing on direct flame, all by myself. Watched my time….took exactly same number of minutes as the number of Rotis. My hubby dear heaved a sigh on seeing the perfect ballooned up Rotis. I had qualified with flying colours in ROTI-RAGGING.
Since then I have passed on the skill of doing multiple Rotis at a time, handling rolling, baking, and puffing them on flame single-handedly to different people who thought it to be a cumbersome process or time-consuming. Not to mention, my MIL has loved to have my Rotis since then and now my daughters are learning the skill as well.
When I reflect back, my kitchen doesn’t seem anything different to me than my Biochemistry lab. Before going for a test, we have to standardize a test with standard solutions, so is cooking. Before learning a procedure well, we have to standardize a protocol. Thus, I found Roti-making also involves several minute steps, one step goes wrong and poofff….you either get half-baked ones or burnt ones, hard ones…like a futile experiment or a wrong standard curve which at the end incurs much frustration….aww…I toiled so hard and the end result is NOTHING. This is why it is considered a superior skill and cooks get better pay based on their Roti-making skill.
Coming back to Roti-making, it has catches at each step…starting from dough making to final puffing on the flame. The dough has to be made soft but not sticky. The rolling part is most difficult one but with little practice it does come out well in round shapes. Only round shapes won’t suffice, they have to be made equally thick from all sides.
The third point is baking on Tawa, one may go for one by one if a beginner and gradually when speed up rolling, one may go for multiple roti baking. Ah! Here comes real higher skill, one part of brain engaged in rolling, other part on status of baking. The rotis are to be baked by turning faces till both sides of them are baked properly, maintaining the whiteness of theirs.
The last but not the least, is to puff them on open flame. As I had mentioned above, it has to be done on high flame, the side to be shown to flame is that which is comparatively cooler and then it has to be turned to the other side. If you have done rest all other steps correctly but failed in the last step, then you may get unpuffed and half-burnt rotis on your platter and beware, you may actually bruise your palette with the hardness of it.
The other part of the story is ragging part in in-laws’ house. When a girl has left her whole family and craves to find a place in in-laws’ hearts, if little hand-holding is done by the ladies of the house, the sojourn becomes smoother. Ultimately, women are only responsible for their own miseries, men are only scapegoats.
More about my cook who couldn’t count beyond 6 dough balls…in my next blog.