A staple in Indian culture is arguably, our food. And found on every thali of every Indian restaurant, you will undoubtedly find roti. Made of simply flour and water, it is the most simple part of any meal yet the most important. And to me, it is a seemingly looming obstacle facing me on my path towards better connecting with my Indian roots.
Rotis are known to all for their distinctive round shape, with flickers of charring around the edges. They are soft, easy to tear and are often greased with a touch of butter. So you can naturally imagine that the first time I set out to make my roti, this image was my determination and guide towards -what I figured to be- a straightforward path. That was, until I made my first one. Its shape was not so much round as it resembled the continent of Africa, the ‘flickers of charring’ I had attempted grew 20 times larger and covered the front face, its softness no where in vicinity of the definition of “soft” and my allotted 20 minutes of making roti had been spent. As I looked at my mom and sister, I felt ashamed seeing as I couldn’t do the very task which they took on everyday and executed flawlessly. I was also embarrassed to think that I couldn’t make the simplest food tied to my own heritage, and found myself utterly discouraged from trying again.
My “not trying again” attitude was short-lived, so the next night I found myself facing the same task which just 24 hours ago, had seemed trivial. Now however, it seemed as if I was the one facing the hot flame instead of the pan placed over our burner. Despite my worries and temporizing, I knew what I perceived to be my second failed attempt was unavoidable. I took the kneaded atta in my hands, sectioned a piece, and begun to shape the roti as I did the day before.
The outcome? They were not round, but were distinguishable. The char I had achieved was not as much flickered as it was spotted, the roti was more crispy than soft and I had now taken the same 20 minutes as I had the night before. Yet, I was not discouraged. My result was the same, but I didn’t feel the same? What could have possibly changed in 24 hours? And I realized, that my results may have indeed been the same, but my attitude was not. And that made all the difference in the world.
What we perceive to be the truth, the right answer and unavoidable fate, is a result of our beliefs. And no matter how rooted it may be, a belief can still be wrong. My tendency to rely on other’s examples instead of follow them had caused to believe that there was such thing as a perfect roti. Now, I know that the charred, flatbread-like roti may never be considered perfect, but it very well could be. If I hadn’t instilled a strict definition of what it meant to succeed at my task, I never would have slowed my progress. So what I perceived to be the perfect roti, made flawlessly by my mother and sister, was not ‘flawless’ at all really. The thing separating my rotis and theirs was not talent, it was belief.
My rotis may not look perfectly round, may not have delicately-charred edges and might be as crispy as a potato chip, but they resemble a journey familiar to us all; life itself. And although my imperfect rotis may be all I have to show for my journey so far, persistence will be my not-so-secret ingredient along the way. And that, I think, is a pretty good place to start.