Says the second year undergraduate Commerce student, who helps her mother Ammini TU at their roadside thattukada (food stall) in Wadakkanchery, near Thrissur in Kerala, “I didn’t think so much about it. There was a need that I do this to help my mother, so I am [doing it].”
Recently, a video of hers making parottas went viral after being shared on social media. Merinda recalls Hanan Hamid, the Kochi student who was subjected to cyber bullying after a video of her selling fish in her college uniform went viral, and says, “She was the darling of the people one day, and then brickbats followed. You know how all this attention…it can backfire just as quickly.”
Merinda, the youngest of Ammini’s three children, starts work at the thattukada at 2 pm after finishing her online classes in the morning. She makes parottas till 10 pm. The family is in debt; Ammini’s husband abandoned the family when Merinda was just a Class IV student. The meagre earnings from the thattukada is barely enough to make ends meet and to pay for Merinda’s college tuition. “We will figure a way out,” says the quick-witted Merinda.
Her getting into making parottas was Ammini’s idea, who, after deciding she had to expand the menu to attract more customers (Ammini had been selling fried snacks like vada and pazham pori for three years at that point), hired a male expert to make parottas to serve with chicken or beef curry. Since he could not make parottas as he had to work elsewhere, Ammini wondered if Merinda, who had just graduated from high school then, could lend a hand. “It took me four months till I finally got the knack of it. Seeing my interest, he taught me how to move my hands, how to get the dough’s consistency right… everything.”
Today, she makes parottas out of eight kilograms of maida dough. “I get 16 parottas per kilogram of maida and I make around 130 parottas a day. Now with all the attention, we are getting more people. In the last few days, I made parottas out of 10-11 kilograms of dough,” says Merinda.
The secret to a flaky parotta is the final crumpling that happens, she adds. Since she has been making parottas for a while she finds it easy now, “the heat (from the tawa) and I are old friends!” she jokes. Her conversation is peppered with humour – self-deprecating – and sometimes the jokes are aimed at her mother. “I get it [sense of humour] from my mother. She is a fighter,” Merinda says.
She has no regrets for not having the time to do things what youngsters her age do. “If there is something I want to do badly or there is more work I don’t go to college that day,” she says. Once she completes her graduation she plans to appear for the Kerala Public Service Commission exams or try for a banker’s job. “All that will happen if I manage to complete my graduation with decent marks. Let’s see,” she signs off, still laughing.