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How do the Chistis respond to hate and exclusion in their new neighborhood? With love and their delicious family recipe of Rutis!

I am the writer and the illustrator.

Photo of Shireen Pasha
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A long, long long time ago, the Chistis who lived in the deserts of Rajasthan decided it was time for a different way of life.

So they got on a boat and rode down the river Ganges to a place known as Bengal, a village known as Momarizpur.

In Momarizpur, they built a house made of bamboo and straw, next to a pond the color of jade and bright yellow banana trees with emerald green tops.

There, they were happy. They worked all throughout the day and danced all throughout the night.

But trouble loomed nearby.  The Chistis' neighbors did not like such different people moving into their beloved village.

The neighbors called a meeting and one of the leaders spoke, As you all may have noticed. We have some strange looking people living by the pond over there. Not only are they strange but they eat strange food as well. They eat round ugly bread the color of mud!  I think we should send two of our men to watch them more closely before we decide that it is okay to mix with them.  Do you agree?

All of the neighbors replied in robotic song, We agree. 

The two spies who were assigned to spy on the Chistis, did so by peaking in through a small hole on the fence that separated the Chistis outdoor Kitchen from the public pathway.

They watched the Chisti women making rutis. By taking a big bag of wheat, pouring it into a bowl, kneading it and kneading it and kneading it. Then making small balls out of the dough, pounding it onto a wooden board, rolling it and rolling it and rolling it. Then placing the rolled out dough in between their palms to make the shape more round. Finally, slamming it onto the fire. Poof! A ruti!

The two spies watching said, Hmm, this looks really interesting. 

One of the ladies thought she heard voices. Did you hear that?

The spies did not want to be discovered so they pretended to be dogs, howling. The ladies were relieved. It’s just a dog. Let’s throw it a ruti. Plop! The ruti fell on one of the spy’s heads. He picked it up, sniffed it and threw it down with pride. I’m not going to eat that. I’m a rice eater! 


The spies went back and reported what they saw. And so the decision was made not to talk to the Chistis because they were strange.

Many days later, when monsoon had started, there was an unusual storm. The rains fell and fell, thunder and lightning, lighting and thunder across the sky. All the rice paddies were drowned. The villagers of Momarizpur had no rice to eat. They were starving.

So the Chistis got together and decided they couldn't let their neighbors starve to death. By taking a big bag of wheat, pouring it into a bowl, kneading it, and kneading it, and kneading it. Then making small balls out of the dough, pounding it onto a wooden board, rolling it and rolling it and rolling it. Then placing the rolled out dough in between their palms to make the shape more round. Finally, slamming it onto the fire. Poof! A ruti!

They did this over and over again until they had a stack of rutis one mile long. They packed up the rutis and gave them to each neighbor. The Chistis spoke, Hello, we are the Chistis. I know you don't like us very much. But we wanted to make sure you had some food to eat until you can grow your rice again.

The neighbor picked up the ruti, smelled it and said, I am kind of hungry. He put a little bit into his mouth, and little bit more to express in joy, YUM! The Chistis were so glad. They delivered the rutis to the rest of the neighbors of Momarizpur. When all the neighbors were fed, they got together to thank the Chistis. Thank you Chistis! We were so mean to you, yet you still saved our lives. Please forgive us. After all, rice and ruti is the same thing. Carbohydrate is carbohydrate. And they lived happily ever after working throughout the day, dancing throughout the night, eating rutis and rice. 

Describe the intended vision for your early childhood book manuscript in 1-2 sentences

The book should be vibrant in color with contrasting peoples and landscapes. The book should also come with an audio CD so that adults and children (together) can do the hand movements and sounds in making the Rutis!

Share your suggested book title

The Ruti Eaters

How has this book been informed by early childhood language development research and evidence? (response minimum 250 Characters)

I developed this story with the support of a workshop organized by museum educator, Dr. Ray Williams, when he was director of Education at the Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Gallery of Asian Art in Washington, DC. I own the copyright. I recorded the story for our storytelling program and performed the story WITH children who visited the Smithsonian programs. The story has never been published and no one but me owns the copyright. Please note -- I changed the name of the migrant family in this submission from Siddique to Chisti (an older family name of ours).

Please describe any familiarity you may have with Philadelphia and its residents? (optional question)

I am inspired by Benjamin Franklin, a wonderful man who invested in humanity's capacity to grow through the formation of our country, libraries and the University of Pennsylvania. I love his stubborn endurance to learn and to believe that human beings can develop to higher standards - a mark he has left on the country. I know also a little bit about the liberty bell -- a call to participate in governing one's country. There is no country without participation.

How have you crafted this manuscript to resonate with and/or reflect the experiences of those living in urban contexts? (optional question)

I used to read and perform this story with children in Washington, DC at the Smithsonian Folk Life festival and many other events held for children at the Sackler and Freer Gallery of Asian Art. The city-enclosed kids loved it because it transported them out of the confines of their usual city life and into landscapes and sounds they were not used to! They loved making rutis! In addition, they received some comfort in understanding that looks can be deceiving and it is okay to trust your neighbors!

Location: Country


Location: State or Department


Location: City

San Francisco

Website URL (optional question)

Samples of my film work: Chosen as Berlinale Talent based on developing film, You of Many Days: You of Many Days vision board:

Tell us more about you / your team

I am the writer and the illustrator. I was born on the threshold of many worlds (Japan, Bangladesh, United States). I am eager to connect with people of all backgrounds and am inspired by simple truths of love and symbiosis, which led me to develop this story after 9/11 for urban communities feeling the anxiety of not trusting their neighbors. Especially as President Bush encouraged neighbors to spy on neighbors through Operation TIPS.

Provide an example visual identity for a look and feel you might like to achieve. ( (optional question, 3-5 visuals)

I love these images by Yuyi Morales! The energy and the magical realism built into the setting and the movement of the characters make me swoon. The one thing I would change is the quality of the paper in the final print (another sensory experience) and I would draw the original illustrations by hand instead of computer (enhances the overall visual quality).

Multiple Choice - Have you been previously published (online, self-published, and print included)?

  • No

Do you have an agent?

  • No

How did you hear about the Challenge? (optional question)

  • OpenIDEO announcement email

What best describes you? (optional question)

  • I am/we are creatives, writers, or artists


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Photo of Shireen Pasha

The length can certainly be augmented! Thank you for your comments. :)

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