A Chapati Tale

RK Nagar
RK Nagar

Wondering? How can there be a tale about a Chapati, but there is one.

Here it is.

Back in 1971 on NDDB campus, bachelors- some twenty of us who were eating in hostel mess suddenly lost our privilege to eat there. Most of us had to make emergency arrangements that included some self taught cooking lessons. 

The next two months after loosing the privilege were a time for most of us to learn some basic survival from hunger tricks. After all how long could we survive on bread, scarcely available eggs, butter and cheese chiplets? The Indian pallet in us needed something else- spiced veggies /curries, simple daal, rice and Chapatis. 

Whereas most of us had by this time managed to cook daal, rice and some vegetables- most of the time it used to be only potatoes and onions, rice, daal and any combination thereof became the staple. Be it lunch or dinner, any permutation had to be around these basic foods. The more adventurous ones added some fresh green veggies out of the limited choices available then. And the good old Chapati was substituted by freshly baked bread from Ambrosia bakery at Jagnath Mahadev. 

Naturally therefore, after office and sports hour which used to be mainly cricket with a tennis ball, whenever we gathered on the lawn opposite hostel after dark,the talk invariably drifted towards Chapati. How we all were missing it. That was also the time for most of us to miss and remember our “Maa ke haath kiRoti”. But there was nothing that we could do to redeem ourselves out of this situation.

“Nagar, here is 1 kg atta, now it is your turn to make the chapatis”.

On one of such evenings, one fellow became so desperate that he almost criedand blurted, ‘Oh God, how long will it be before I get to eat a Chapati? How long will I have to live on this bread from Ambrosia bakery?” And soon there were other dozen or so hungry souls crying with him for a Chapati. Call it a ‘crying chorus’.

Before the atmosphere could turn gloomy, one of them jokingly stated, “you will have darshan of a Chapati only after you get married, provided your wife knows how to cook”. This was just an innocent joke but our friend who had started it all didn’t take it kindly.

“I am talking of one NOW, the fellow who was the first to start retorted. Will I wait for a Chapati till  get married”? He reacted. His frustration with the situation was palpable. 

Sensing that matters might get sensitive, I with a simple intent to divert, said, “I know how to make Chapatis. And I can make one for you but we don’t have wheat flour and at this late hour, we can’t get it either. So wait for another occasion.”

As I made this statement, I noticed that Rajiv Varma just got up, started hisscooter and disappeared. Since, this was his usual pattern,  no one paid muchattention to it. While we were busy with a much lighter conversation on Chapati, we noticed Rajiv return with a linen bag on his shoulder.

He alighted from the scooter, from his shoulder bag he pulled out a paper bag,stretched his hand towards me and said, “Nagar, here is 1 kg atta, now it is your turn to make the chapatis”.

I was caught unawares. I had never entered the kitchen in my parent’s home and here was a paper bag full of wheat flour staring at me with two dozen hungry eyes waiting for me to say ‘yes, I will make chapatis for you’. This soon turned in a chorus demanding chapatis cooked by Nagar.  

Finding myself cornered, I tried another trick, ‘but to make chapatis, you need kitchen aids. You need a Tawa, a Chakla and a Belan and no one has that. So, wait till the kitchen aids are procured’. As I thought I had just escaped the tricky situation, Gore, pulled a rabbit, “I have an equipped kitchen. There is everything there that you need to make chapatis”. 

Oh My God, how did I forget that? Gore had a cook- Shanaji until a few days ago and he used to make chapatis for him right here on the campus! Boy, I was caught in a self created tangle.

Finding no escape, I made a bold statement, ‘alright, let us all go to Gore’s house and I will make chapatis. But there is a condition. You will have to be patient as I am doing it after a very long time and everyone gets only one Chapati. There shall be no demand for a second one’.

“Agreed”, the chorus of hungry souls said in one voice. 

In my parent’s home, I had very keenly observed my mother cook. I knew how she kneaded the dough, how she rolled out chapatis, how she baked them on tawa and how round uniformly cooked and fully inflated lovely chapatis emerged. Equipped with every bit of theoretical knowledge about Chapati making, I was all set to take a plunge to translate my knowledge into practice. 

I carefully made the dough. Kneading it by adding small quantities of water, I was able to get the right consistency- not too soft nor too hard to roll into chapatis. I proudly showed them how the dough is prepared. A dozen hungry souls were very impressed and I could see restlessness in their eyes to devour chapatis. 

Now came the real test- rolling out a Chapati. Here the difference between theory and practice became very apparent. Harder I tried to make a round shape, a new shape emerged. Chapatis in every conceivable shape emerged except the round one. Cooking them on tawa was even harder-I had no idea that temperature control is also needed and that one learns only by practice. 

My observed knowledge had failed me. Not a single Chapati was round and,except the last one that partially inflated, all other turned out as flat hard pieces of, at least fully cooked, edible, irregularity shaped something for which I can’t find a suitable name. 

Anyway, the project ‘Chapati’ was a grand success. I can vouch for it becausethe expression of the dozen hungry souls had given me a thumbs up and a standing ovation. That day I learnt that a humble Chapati can be a life saver too. 

But, I learnt a lesson. The morale of the story is- if you are surrounded by hungry souls, even if you know, never admit that you know cooking. Keep your trap shut. Second, take a good look in your closest friend’s kitchen- just in case you slip his kitchen doesn’t take you by surprise. And if you find any kitchen aids that can ditch you, secretly throw them in the farthest ditch you can find. 

Finally, the humble Chapati won the hearts of a dozen hungry souls. It all happened in good time before they could turn into ‘hungry howls’.


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