Coronavirus impact: The plight of Indian Parotta makers from China

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Tossing parottas high into the air and catching it with one hand before repeating it to widen the diameter of the dough was the hobby of young P Ahamed when he worked in a nighttime eatery in Malaysia in 1990. Now 49, Ahamad says he never imagined it would one day make him a pioneer in taking parottas to China and become a role model for hundreds of villagers from similar economically backward families of the drought-hit region.

More than a hundred porotta masters, who have made successful careers for themselves in China as ‘Indu Sui Bing’ (Indian fly bread) masters, are now back in India after the coronavirus threat shut down hotels there. However, celebrated as they are in this region, people at the moment are wary about catching the infection from them, though they show no symptoms of the ailment.

Health officials in Puliyur, Vellayapuram and Kattivayal in Tiruvadanai said they are monitoring nearly 120 persons from that locality who have returned from China. These ‘Indu Sui Bing’ masters from Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Pudukottai districts are now waiting for their hotels in China to reopen.

Ahamed who hails from Pottagavayal village near Devipattinam in Ramanathapuram district started making parottas in a small eatery his family run in front of their house in 1987 after he failed in his 10th standard. In 1990, Abdul Rahman (who later became his father-in-law) took him to Malaysia to make parottas. “I worked there for four years and was tossing the dough in the air when Fang, a Chinese from Malaysia, curiously observed me and asked me if I would go to China to do the same,” he told TOI.

The young parotta maker who was drawing Rs 12,000 a month then (1994) immediately took the offer when Fang promised twice the salary. More surprises awaited him in China. “The climate in Guangzhou was cold but people there were unexpectedly warm. I was treated like a celebrity as they were fascinated by a foreigner with dark brown complexion, which was completely new to them. They used to touch my skin to check if I am really tan,” he laughed.

Customers and fans queued outside ‘Sing Ma In’ hotel that served Singapore Malaysian and Indian food in Guangzhou to have a glimpse of Ahamed doing the tossing and taste the ‘Indu Sui Bing’. They used to take pictures with him. He made around 100 ‘Indu Sui Bing’ a day.

In 1995, he took his cousin Syed to China to help him out. While Syed continues as an ‘Indu Sui Bing’ maker, Ahamed quit and switched to exporting commodities from China. The network spread through a referral mode wherein relatives and friends were referred from various parts of the district and neighbouring districts like Sivaganga and Pudukottai. Hundreds of parottas makers now work as ‘Indu Sui Bing’ masters in China.

The delicacy that weighs about 150 grams is priced at Rs 200 apiece when stuffed with a variety of fruits like banana, pineapple or flavoured spreads like peanut butter and vegetables. Nonvegetarian Sui Bing stuffed with sardine, chicken, motton, beef and rarely pork is Rs 250.

“We make around 20 to 30 such Sui Bing a day,” says Umamani Kalingarathinam, 45, of Puliyur who has been making it since 2003. The Chinese were fascinated seeing the masters from Tamil Nadu toss the dough high up in the air and spread it till its diameter is about three feet. The dough is then garnished with fruits, vegetables and non-vegetarian dishes before it is folded to the size of ‘A4’ size paper and baked on a flat pan. Cut into 12 to 16 pieces it is served like cookies as a delicious desert, with each customer tasting a piece or two after a sumptuous Chinese meal.

S Venkateswaran, 25, who did a course in footwear technology and worked for a salary of Rs 10,000 in a footwear company is now happily drawing Rs 50,000 as a ‘Indu Sui Bing’ master in Xian the capital of Shaanxi Province, China, for the last five years. Aspirants should either be well-versed in tossing parottas in the air here or get trained in a couple of local parotta shops for about a week before they fly to China.

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