Rotis: The shape of love

Updated: May 31, 2020, 06:44 IST | Meenakshi Shedde | Mumbai

I aimed at a modest 25 masala rotis. As I had just two hours to deliver them (I saw the message late), I quickly texted friends, who immediately helped. Diptiben brought me thepla atta. Viju lent me two large tawas

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeGiven that I haven't touched a polpat-latne in about 20 years, I was amazed I could make 25 rotis at a stretch. I did it on Saturday last week, and again on Tuesday, and plan to continue. It all started when a good friend, Falguni Desai, forwarded me a WhatsApp message from Circle of Love, a group of volunteers from all over Mumbai, saying "10,000 roti rolls needed" for distribution to the poor, hungry and migrants. Falguni herself was making 120 theplas (thick rotis with spices and methi). Bas, I jumped in. Many Indians are feeling terrible at how the Coronavirus has left millions devastated, and are unsure about how to help beyond donating money: here was an opportunity, and from home.

I aimed at a modest 25 masala rotis. As I had just two hours to deliver them (I saw the message late), I quickly texted friends, who immediately helped. Diptiben brought me thepla atta. Viju lent me two large tawas. Soon, I was belofying the rotis, and simultaneously roasting three rotis at a time. Imagine, some even turned out round. But, mostly, they were the shape of love.

Working with your own hands has a much deeper and different pleasure than donating money, though each is extremely valuable to the cause. It felt a bit Biblical, making something as basic as rotis, unleavened bread, to feed those you didn't even know. In fact, every Ramzan, many Muslims fast for a month to personally experience the suffering of the hungry, and they also donate to charity and feed the hungry. My friend Tanuja brought a generous stack of rotis, as did Viju. The entire Sadarangani family—Vinodbhai, Viju, Prateik, Ritika—helped pack the theplas in paper, in sets of three. We couldn't believe the final tally: we had made 85 rotis in two hours! Nandini despatched her husband Ranjit to help drop off the rotis at a collection centre nearby.

The next time, I posted on the local residents' group, and prioritised the Gujaratis, who are accustomed to making rotis daily any way. Overnight, Sejal, Hemal and their friends organised the bulk of the 489 theplas/rotis we organised. Imagine, nearly 500 theplas, five times more than the first time. Circle of Love posts regular updates: once Mumbai's people contributed over 11,000 rotis a day, 36,000 another day, and counting. Yet, on other days, there were 75,000 migrants leaving by various trains, as well as buses, so we needed to step up our efforts.

Later, I discovered the NGO Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur was backing Circle of Love, and has distributed 4.8 lakh theplas to 2.65 lakh migrants and needy till date. Circle of Love provides to the full spectrum of needy people, including settlements, and areas in quarantine, like Dharavi, and especially to migrants leaving Mumbai at various railway and bus stations, from VT to Vasai. Migrants must wait up to 10 hours in the hot sun while being "processed" before boarding trains; some have died during travel, from heat and hunger.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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