- Sheen Johns
What Making Rotis Taught Me About Writing
On this particular soggy Thursday morning, I overslept only to wake up at 7:20 am and was in the kitchen by 7:35 am. The egg curry was boiling on the stove as my mother-in-law peeled off the shells of the boiled eggs to be added in. My tea sat on the counter as I washed the rice and put it on the induction to be ready by the time the tiffin needed to be packed. I grabbed my tea and took out the pre-prepared atta dough. It was not as soft as it was when I put it in the fridge last night.
The howling winds smashed the rain onto the kitchen windows. Goosebumps rose up my arms as the hot tea tried to warm up my ice-cold skin. I rolled the dough into small balls and with a rolling pin flattened them out into almost perfect circles before slapping them onto the hot tawa. With rolled-up cloth, a bit of pressure here and a bit there, a few flips and the roti bloomed into an advertisement-worthy delicacy.
The act that looked so seamless now was never this easy a task for me. I have had my share of struggles with the roti like any other Indian girl. And it taught me something, which we will talk about soon.
My family, a south Indian one was naturally not into rotis. My parent's families preferred their much-loved kanji or rice with thoran, fish or meat, pulissaery and the sorts that you smell in a regular south indian home. Chappati as it is called here was a dry flat bread that did nothing for the hefty appetite that could be contempted only with soft steaming hot rice.
Roti or as popularly known in the south as chapati was something my mother being an army wife learned to perfect in her years around the northern parts of India with my dad. And she makes them really good, a little stiff and soft at the same time, perfect circles and mouth-watering. With her new friends from the north, came in new dishes into our kitchen that became our everyday meals that otherwise our families back in Kerala would think twice before making it into the main meal.
Later when I started to learn to cook, I failed every time. My dough was either too hard or real sticky, the rotis turned out burnt, with the texture of papads and the shape of the map of India.
It is only after my marriage that I started cooking on a daily basis and prepared more often that I was able to perfect my art. Yes, you read it right, it is an art to create the right blend of flour, water, and salt, knead it to the fluffy ball, then roll it out into small circles with the right pressure applied so that once it lands on the hot tawa it balloons into a soft and tasty roti.
This roti-making has taught me a very big lesson, one that I used to ignore thinking it was just the opinion of some people and it will not work for everyone. I learned that no matter how talented or skilled you are if you do not put that skill into practice consistently if you don't polish it as often, you are not going to go any farther than you are now. You will end up stuck at being the talented kid that never made it big.
I decided to be a writer because despite everything I tried, I was always pulled into the world of books and words. It made me happy to read and create. Even when I believed that I am a good writer, I noticed that my writing was not progressing. It looked the same over the years. It dissappointed me, after all I had given up a 'practical job' to be a full time writer. I started believing that I had made a mistake. I started telling myself that I did not have it in me to be a bestselling author and I should not have taken the risk and should have stayed at my old job. Atleast I got paid.
After a few days and eventually months of slouching and feeling sorry for myself, once my head was clear enough to think straight, I evaluated my writing journey of the past two years.
How was the girl who could never finish a full story before, be able to finish the first draft of an entire manuscript? How did I do it? If I was as useless as I believed myself to be, then how did I do it? It is not a task anybody can do after all, and I did it.
After much deliberation on a cold rainy morning while making rotis, the epiphany hit me. The rotis showed me where I had gone wrong and why I was not making any progress.
I realised I could finish that story more than a year ago because at the time I was thrilled and excited to make the career switch that I had dreamed of for ages.Now I lived the life of a writer. I read daily, wrote daily and read up on and watched the videos of writers. I build a life of a true writer and followed it everyday. I used to practice my writing almost daily, never taking a break longer than a week. I tried to upskill by reading other author's works and non-fiction books on writing.
But in the recent times, I was not doing so. My persoanl life was so overwhelming that I lost what I had built. I called myself a writer, but I wrote not so often. Nowadays I read one book over a span of two to three months. I had slipped away into believing I was a good writer but never practicing the art.
My skills rusted over time and I started losing connection with my creative side. I failed at writing beautiful descriptions and words seemed to evade me.
I still was a good writer but stuck in the phase I was in two years ago. I still could write better if only I wrote more often. Creatives are beings who produce their best work when the inspiration strikes and the mood is right. But only practice makes almost perfect. Just like learning to make the perfect rotis, every creative needs to practice more and continuously upskill to become the better version. It is only through continous practice that one will be able to create extraordinary art when the inspiration strikes.
If you have noticed, I haven't posted anything in here in a while. So, I have decided to write one personal essay, my thoughts on my recent reads and life in general and post it here every fortnight. If you have not yet subscribed yet, do it now to get the notification everytime the post goes up on my website.
Practice, upskill, practice and just follow the loop. In no time you will be a pro at your craft.
Do share your own experience in the comments. I would love to hear from you.