Arooba Khan

2022-2023 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Arooba Khan, 16

Winner, 14-16 Age Group

Houston, Texas

The ideal roti is a perfect circle with a slightly thick edge and a soft center. It should puff up when you place it on the stove and let out a gust of warm air when you tear it into pieces. The ideal roti is also, however, a labor of love. You have to knead the dough to the perfect consistency and separate it into perfect spheres. You have to roll out the dough and flip it to elongate it, letting gravity do some of the work. Then, you place it onto the hot tawa and flip it with your hands, because the tongs will leave a mark. At the end of the process, the fruit of your labor is rewarded with a delicious, warm flatbread. Roti, although a simple flatbread to many, is the one thing I can never have enough of.

I eat it with every meal; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I eat it with everything; butter, kebabs, gravies. I can’t imagine a day without roti. I’ve often pondered the reason behind my obsession and I’ve realized that roti, for me, provides a sense of safety.

Growing up as the second daughter of two immigrants I’ve constantly felt the need to prove my worth in the form of academic success. The need to not only do well but to excel has been my main driving force. When your parents give up everything to provide you with the hope for a better future, the fear of disappointing them becomes a constant struggle. The expectations that I set for myself were unreasonable and often prevented me from taking risks. I chose to not try at anything unless I could ensure my success.

This viewpoint spread to other parts of my life like a disease. I began to doubt my actions and second-guess my decisions. I was afraid of trying new things and built myself a shelter in my comfort zone. In my roti.

It wasn’t until my world got plunged into chaos and I found myself alone in the confines of my room in a pandemic that I realized I had a problem. Without validation from my teachers and reassurance from my peers, my mental health began to sink. My grades began to sink. I began to sink. True to the saying, I had hit my rock bottom and the only way for me to go was up. As always, I turned back to roti.

That summer, I made it my mission to make the perfect roti. A roti that would be a perfect circle with a slightly thick edge and a soft center. A roti that would puff up on the stove and let out a gust of warm air when I ripped it into pieces. On my first attempt, I managed to not only burn my hand but also burn the roti. Unlike the ideal, it was thick, doughy, charred, and shaped similar to a dilapidated Pangea.

My roti wasn’t round.

The temptation to give up was strong, however, I had promised myself that I would stick it through, something I had been unable to do before.

The following attempts were also disastrous and often resulted in flour in my hair and one or two burns on my arm. My mother offered me her help and guidance, but her aid never helped.

My roti wasn’t round.

With my consistent trial and error, I eventually became better at rolling out the dough and cooking it at the proper temperature.

Still, my roti wasn’t round. It was, however, edible.

It accomplished its purpose of accompanying a main dish, highlighting the flavors without stealing the spotlight. Each time I produced a roti of subpar quality, I reminded myself that despite the unorthodox appearance, it was still roti at the end of the day. In time, I began to appreciate the beauty of the amorphous-shaped flatbreads.

Letting go of the need for perfection opened up a plethora of opportunities for me. I no longer had to stay hidden in my limits because of a crippling fear of failure. Taking risks was a chance to try something new knowing that I would fail in the beginning with the hopes of succeeding later. Knowing that only I could live my life and make decisions for myself, I began to take the initiative. When school began back in person, I found myself making new friends, establishing new clubs, and striving for leadership opportunities.

Now, I can never get enough of my imperfect rotis.