Book Review: ‘Failure to Make Round Rotis’ is An Anthem on Womanhood

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Title: Failure to Make Round Rotis: Poems on Rebellion, Resilience and Relationships 
Author: Mehak Goyal
Publisher: Juggernaut
Price: INR 325

Failure to Make Round Rotis: Poems on Rebellion, Resilience and Relationships is former computer engineer turned poet Mehak Goyal’s powerful debut collection of verses. The raw poems in the book talk about the daily struggles of womanhood while recounting the pressures and discrimination that women routinely face.
Apart from her family, Goyal dedicates the book to “those who feel the urge to overcompensate for their failure to make round rotis.” At the beginning, she also writes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s appropriate quote: “The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.”
The book was born about three years ago during one of the darkest points in Goyal’s life, when a freak injury confined her to the bed for a period of six months. Simultaneously, she shut down her start-up and also went through a bad breakup. It was at this time that writing was her only refuge.

The poems in the book are divided into different sections depending on their theme. Each poem is also accompanied by clever black-and-white illustrations by Shikhar Gaur. ‘Medal of Participation’ has poems about childhood, raising several subjects such as friendships, examinations, achieving, losing gracefully and bullying.
For instance, this poem called ‘Report Card’:

A: Kiss on the cheek, hug, Baskin-Robbins
B: Pat on the head, do better
C: Lock in dark bathroom
D: Smack soft skin
E: Hurl slipper
F: Hostel

‘Adulting’ consists of poems on adolescence, growing up, work life, partying, drinking and social media. One of the poems in this category is also about her experience of being a start-up founder:

I was adamant to plunge into
the stinging sea of start-ups—
the unforgiving waters
that promised prestige.

She goes onto abstractly describe all the challenges she encountered in her turbulent start-up journey:

There were days we swam through the largest waves.
There were days we were knocked out despite wearing life vests.

‘The Bottle of Promises’ is about broken promises, “unreciprocated love”, heartbreak, tattered memories and rejection. In this section, she also explores the toxic relationships one chases because they deem themselves unworthy. ‘Lottery of Love’ has poems about first dates, finding love, sex, the fear and doubt one carries while adulating as well as the guilt and insecurity that haunts even as they find that one deserving love.

My eyes unable to hold
the love I am receiving,
I weep, I weep, I weep.

‘Wallet of Happiness’ is primarily about guilt trips and loneliness – “a paralysing sickness”.

Maybe
I am a sieve,
Incapable of holding love.

‘How to Do Laundry’ is a section that tells a lot about the poet, as it includes three poems with the word “introvert” in their titles – ‘Saturday Night for an Introvert’, ‘Love for an Introvert’ and ‘A Toast to Introverts’.

To not letting words escape our tongues
despite them bouncing like pinballs in our heads.

In ‘The Indian Matchmaker’, Goyal delves into the reality of arranged marriage in our country as well as her uncertainties about the marriage market and mania. The poem ‘Death Knell’ is about the societal stigma of being an unmarried girl who is 25 years or older. The section goes on to describe what it is like being a girl who is judged for wearing provocative clothes, posing with boys on social media and not being able to cook – spelling out the desired criteria for a girl who is fit for arranged marriage.
Another poem lists out all the endless requirements of a perfect bride: young, fair, untouched, homely, pliable, dolled up, traditional, loving and affluent. Goyal also highlights how matchmaking websites dish out options of brides and grooms based on various search filters and other conditions. Further, ‘Panditji’ brings out our obsession with matching the horoscopes (or ‘kundalis’) of the prospective bride and groom before marriage. ‘A Woman’s Lexicon’ includes an A-Z dictionary on what is expected from an ideal girl or woman. ‘Labels’ is about the many labels that a woman is given by people and society for being who she is – while no one does the same for men.

The section also has the book’s title poem ‘How to Make Round Rotis’, which illustrates how women must learn how to cook well in order to be considered marriage-worthy:

Take two cups of unbound flour in a mixing bowl.
Add three-fourth cup of water of discontentment.
Knead with knuckles of fragile hands.

The section also examines monthly ordeals that all women must endure – periods and PMS:

Unpredictability, her trademark,
Sometimes a day early.
Sometimes a couple of days late.

Further, ‘Protect Her’ is about how women are encouraged to be tame and toe the line.

She is
a blank book
a chaste canvas
a desireless dependant.
Ensure she stays that way.
Always.

And finally, in ‘The Anthem’, Goyal writes:

Tear the traditions that
demand acceptance
without questions.

Goyal feels that there are two distinct kinds of poetry being published today: the Instagram poets with a massive following who write accessible poems about heartache and self-love; and prolific writers like Tishani Doshi, Jeet Thayil and Jerry Pinto, the effect of whose poems is magical, and needs to be savoured. “I realized there is a huge gap here, I am trying to act as a bridge between these two forms,” she explains.

Failure to Make Round Rotis: Poems on Rebellion, Resilience and Relationships is available for sale on Amazon.

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