The grand chapatti contest.

The grand chapatti contest:

In the biggest, grandest palace in India, there once lived a king who hardly ever got angry.

He did not get angry when the queen polished his golden crown with black polish or when she used his silver hairbrush to brush the royal dog.

He did not get angry when the royal servants forgot to fill his satin pillow with fresh rose petals every night, or to line his stiff, silver shoes with the softest feathers every morning.

There was only one thing that made the king angry. And that was when he was not served perfectly round, soft, fluffy-puffy chapattis for his meals. The king loved eating chapattis so much that he wanted chapattis for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

That was why the queen was most worried when the royal kitchen's Chief Chapatti Cook left his job and went away to the Himalayas to become a holy man.

“Who will make chapattis just the way the king likes them? Perfectly round, soft and fluffy-puffy chapattis?” the queen asked the remaining ninety nine cooks in the royal kitchen.

“Not me,” said the Royal Sweet-Maker. “I can make sweets from milk and honey, and sweets from dates and almonds. I can even make sweets from cactus flowers and pine needles, and sweets from rose thorns and blackberry prickles. But to make chapattis just the way the king likes them–perfectly round, soft, fluffy-puffy. Forgive me, Your Highness, that's something I just cannot do.”

The remaining ninety-eight cooks had the same answer for the queen. So the poor, worried queen decided to hold a Grand Chapatti Contest. She would invite everyone in the kingdom to take part in the contest. Whoever made the best chapattis would be given a bag of gold coins as a prize and offered a job as the Chief Chapatti Cook in the royal kitchen.

That morning, the king came smiling down for breakfast. He kept smiling till he took one bite of the chapatti on his plate and then his face crumpled up in disgust.

“Yuck!” said the king. “This is the worst chapatti that I have ever eaten. It's as stiff as my royal shield and as hard as the golden plate I'm eating on. I will certainly punish the cook who made this terrible chapatti!” He picked up the chapatti and flung it out of the window.

“Don't be angry, dear,” said the queen, hoping no one would tell the king that she was the one who had made his breakfast chapatti that morning. “I will be getting a new Chief Chapatti Cook today! I am holding a Grand Chapatti Contest. The person who makes the best chapatti will be given a bag of gold coins as the prize and also the job of Chief Chapatti Cook in the royal kitchen. I have sent out the royal messengers with their drums and trumpets to tell all the people in our kingdom about the Grand Chapatti Contest.”

Out in the towns and villages of the kingdom, the royal messengers in their robes of pink and green and purple were telling the people about the Grand Chapatti Contest. “Grand Chapatti Contest at the palace today! Grand Chapatti Contest at the palace today!” they shouted, banging their drums and blowing their trumpets as they walked through the streets. “Whoever makes the best chapatti will win a bag of gold coins and be given a job as the Chief Chapatti Cook in the royal kitchen.”

In one of the villages of this kingdom, there lived a little girl called Meena. When Meena heard about the Grand Chapatti Contest, she wanted her mother to take part. Meena's father was a peanut-seller and he sold peanuts that he roasted on a little clay stove on his little pushcart.

Meena's family was very poor and the only thing they could afford to eat was plain chapattis with boiled peanuts or plain chapattis with peanut chutney, or sometimes just plain chapattis with a slice of raw onion. Since they didn't eat much else, Meena's mother always took great care to make her chapattis round, soft and fluffy-puffy. Meena thought her mother made the best chapattis in the kingdom and was sure to win the prize.

Since the contest was to begin soon, Meena's father gave Meena and her mother a ride to the palace on his little pushcart.

At the palace grounds, there were already hundreds of cooks busy at work making the most amazing chapattis Meena and her parents had ever seen. Butterfly-shaped chapattis and spinach-flavoured chapattis. Chapattis stuffed with raisins, chapattis layered with butter.

Chapattis that smelt of cardamom and chapattis that were colored with saffron. Chapattis as soft and fine as muslin that you could actually see through, and one chapatti that was so large that it required four people to carry it.

How could her mother possibly make a chapatti that was better than all these wonderful chapattis, Meena wondered, feeling very worried indeed.

The other cooks had very special cooking vessels too. One cook had a glass rolling pin, one had a moonstone rolling board. One cook had brought along two wrestlers to help knead the chapatti dough, while another had come with his pet elephant wearing silk socks so that it could stamp the balls of dough into chapattis.

Soon it was time for the king and queen to choose the best chapatti. They sat at a special table under a striped silk tent at one end of the garden, and every person who had made a chapatti was to give it to the king to taste.

The king refused to taste the butterfly-shaped chapatti when it was brought to him saying, “I like only round chapattis!”

“This color is awful!” he said about the green, spinach-flavoured chapatti which was taken to him next.

“Smells of elephant's toes!” he said when he sniffed at another chapatti.

Next came the fluffiest-puffiest chapatti Meena had ever seen. The cook had used a special pump to fill extra air into the chapatti after it was made. The king's eyes brightened.

Meena was sure the cook who had made this chapatti would win the prize until... the fluffiest-puffiest chapatti rose up from the plate and floated off – up, up and away into the air!

The cook who had made a chapatti so soft and fine that one could actually look through it, carried it carefully to the king. As she neared the table, a petal from one of the flowers in the garden fell on the soft, fine chapatti and it tore into half.

“I can't eat torn chapattis,” said the king.

Then the king was given the chapatti filled with nuts.

“Cold and hard!” the king complained when he tasted it.

“Too hard,” he grumbled as he pushed away another chapatti after just one bite.

Indeed, most of the delicious chapattis made by the cooks had turned cold and hard before the king could taste them.

This gave Meena an idea. She asked her father to push his cart as close to the silk tent as possible. She asked her mother to sit on the cart and make the chapattis on the little clay stove kept on it.

And just as the chapatti Meena's mother made was ready, Meena's father pushed the cart right next to the king's table and the perfectly round, hot, soft, fluffy-puffy chapatti was slipped straight off the stove and on the king's golden plate.

“Mmm,” said the king, when he took his first bite of the chapatti. He couldn't say much more as he was already eating yet another perfectly round, hot, soft, fluffy-puffy chapatti that Meena's mother had made. Then another. And another. Till he had eaten fifteen chapattis in all.

“These are the best chapattis I have ever eaten!” said the king. “Rounder, hotter, softer, and more fluffy-puffy than any chapatti I have ever tasted!”

So the king and queen declared Meena's mother the winner of the Grand Chapatti Contest and gave her the prize of a bag of gold coins. Meena's mother was also made the Chief Chapatti Cook in the royal kitchen. With the money she earned, they would be able to eat more than just chapattis and peanuts every day.

As for Meena's father, he had to buy himself a new cart on which to roast and sell peanuts. That was because his old cart was painted red and gold, and put right next to the royal dining table so that Meena's mother could make hot, soft, round, fluffy-puffy chapattis for the king everyday, using the little clay stove on the cart.

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