The Parantha Cycle

Image by Dimple Dhabalia

Image by Dimple Dhabalia

When I was living in New Delhi, I used to pass an old bicycle, permanently stationed against a wall in my neighborhood, on my way to work.  The first few times I saw it, I wondered what it was doing there, but as with so many things in India, one quickly learns to stop asking why, and to start accepting what is

On a cool Saturday morning, with the air clear enough for a walk, I ventured out of my flat to explore my neighborhood and stop in at the local market.  As I turned the corner, I saw a small crowd of people on the side of the road near the bicycle.  I walked closer and saw a man with a red checkered bandana tied around his forehead, oil rubbed into his jet-black hair.  He wore a dingy white tank top with holes along the bottom edges, the dark skin on his face was taut and weathered, glistening as little drops of sweat rolled down the sides of his face.  He was making paranthas on a concave, cast iron griddle which rested atop a single burner on the back of the back of the blue crate. The people who stood with him on the side of the road, they were customers waiting to be served.  

There amidst the orchestra of street sounds - horns blaring, street dogs barking, and pheriwallas sing-songing their offerings in long nasal-y tones - the man worked undisturbed, quickly creating edible works of art on the side of the road. He held a dark iron spatula in his left hand, gently lifting the corners of rounds so they wouldn't stick or burn, while simultaneously reaching with his other hand into a bowl to his right and pulling off a golf ball sized round of tacky, pale brown colored dough from the large globe.  In one quick, fluid motion he formed the dough into a small ball with his fingers, dredged it in a plate of white flour, and tossed it down on a small wooden board - a conductor, directing a grand symphony.  Grabbing the thick, wooden rolling pin from the corner of the board he transformed the spongy orb into a perfectly flat circle with a half a dozen quick back-and-forths of the pin.

When he finished rolling, he slid the spatula under one of the hot, flaky disks which was now red and crispy, flecked with dots of black char from the hot griddle, and flipped it on to a plate.  He took a spoonful of ghee from a small stainless-steel container covered in greasy fingerprints, and slathered it on top.  Creamy, white yogurt from an aluminum cylinder was hastily spooned onto the plate, little white globules landing on the glistening parantha, .  He handed the plate over to an eagerly waiting customer before gingerly flipping the rolled circle from the board into his palm and laying it in the empty space on the griddle, starting the whole perfectly timed and beautifully choreographed dance on the back end of the bicycle all over again.