About Chapati Mystery.

Chapati Mystery is a "quaint blog" established in April 2004. It focuses on histories and cultures of Hindustan. It was founded by "sepoy". The title "Chapati Mystery" refers to a particular happening around 1857 CE. Below these key terms and histories, are explained:

What is a chapati?

Sirajuddin Khan-i Arzu (1687 - 1756), the lexicographer, in his Navadir al-Alfaz (Rare Words):

چپاتی : در غرائب اللغات “نان تنک که بر تابه از دست پزند.” در اصل چاپاتی لفظ فارسی است ، چپات در فارسی طپانچه است و چون آن را به ضرب کف پزند چپاتی گویند. لیکن در کتب معتبره فارسی چپاتی نان فطیر که به چپات یعنی دست پهن کرده پزند و بعضی گویند الف برای ضرورت شعر است. و در اصل چاپاتی است و اغلب که بدین معنی نوشته غیر چپاتی است چنانکه شهرت دارد

Chapati : In [Abdul Hansvi's] Gharaib al-lughat : 'thin bread cooked on a pan with the hand'. Originally a Persian word; chapaat in Persian is a blow/slap and since it is cooked with palm blows, they call it chapaati. However, in reliable Persian texts 'chapaati' means unleavened bread that is cooked with 'chapaat' or spread hands. Some say the 'alef' fulfills a prosodic requirement but it is originally chapaati and most usages in the latter sense refer to something other than to chapaati in the familiar meaning.

From Arzu's 'corrections' and explication of Abdul Hansvi's late seventeenth century work, Gharaib al-Lughat (Unusual Words). My thanks to Parshant K. for the reference.

What is 1857: The Year of the Chapatis

In late 1856, rumors swept across northern India about a new rifle being used by the East India Company - the Lee-Enfield Rifle. The rifle's ammunition was carried in a paper-wrapped cartridge with the powder and ball. The paper was greased to be water-proof. For a single-hand load, the soldier would tear the cartridge with his teeth, pour the powder down the muzzle, put the ball in the muzzle, shove it with the ramrod, aim and fire. For demonstration, watch Barry Lyndon or go to your local Civil War Re-Enactement. Yes, the Lee-Enfield was the gun used during the Civil War.

The cartridges were produced in Fort Williams, Calcutta and supplied to the depots where instructions were handed out in their usage. One depot in Calcutta, Dum Dum [later giving its name to the bullet developed there], was the source in early 1857 of rumors that the grease used to water-proof the paper was made up of a mixture of cow and pig fat. The Commanding officers immediately tried to spread the word that it was mutton-fat and wax, but the news was spreading out across the land that biting the cartridge wrapper would desecrate both the Brahmin Hindus and the Muslim sepoys in the East India Company army.

The British feared that this news was spreading and the sepoys were mobilizing for a revolt. But how? They suspected that villages across India were using chapatis (flat, round indian bread) to hand-delivered from village to village - especially in Awadh and Bengal - to organize themselves. The secret paper messages were baked inside the chapati, they imagined.

In any case, the result was the Uprising of 1857.

Postcolonial authors have tried to discern the meaning behind the chapatis, as well - though they remain mysterious to this day.

What is the vertiginous chapati?

This blog takes its motto, cheekily, from Homi Bhabha's essay, "In a Spirit of Calm Violence", in Gyan Prakash (ed), After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements. Princeton University Press, 2001. pp. 332-336:

It is at the point of the omen's obscurity, not in the order of the symbol but in the temporal break of the sign that the interrogative che vuoi of agency emerges: What is the vertiginous chapati saying to me? The "indeterminate" circulation of meaning as rumor or conspiracy, with its perverse, psychic affects of panic constitutes the intersubjective realm of revolt and resistance. What kind of agency is constituted in the circulation of the chapati?
It is at the enunciative level that the humble chapati circulates both a panic of knowledge and power. The great spreading fear, more dangerous than anger, is equivocal, circulating wildly on both sides. It spreads beyond the knowledge of ethnic or cultural binarisms and becomes a new, hybrid space of cultural difference in the negotiation of colonial power-relations. Beyond the barracks and the bungalow opens up an antagonistic, ambiguous area of engagement that provides, in a perverse way, a common battleground that gives the Siphai* a tactical advantage.

What is a sepoy?

Sephai = sepoy. [ad. (prob. through Pg. sipae) Urdu = Pers. sipahi, horseman, soldier, f. sipah army. Cf. F. cipaye. A native of India employed as a soldier under European, esp. British, discipline. (Oxford English Dictionary). Since the mid 2010s, sepoy is a derogratory term used by Hindu right wing towards any left/liberal individual who criticizes right-wing politics.

Who is the sepoy on Chapati Mystery?

Sepoy is the nom de guerre of Manan Ahmed, who is currently an Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. He began Chapati Mystery in April 2004. A selection of his essays on CM and elsewhere were published as "Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination" in 2011.

Who else is part of the CM collective?

Chapati Mystery has always been a collective project. The main contributors to the current site are:
  • Daisy Rockwell is Lapata (unknown, lost): A scholar, translator and artist, Rockwell has been a contributor and guiding light on CM since 2007.
  • Salman Hussain is Patwari (village administrator): Hussain is currently a PhD candidate at Univeristy of Michigan in the Anthropology+History program.
  • Tapsi Mathur is Qainchi (scissor). Mathur is an an Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University.

    CM on Twitter, Facebook.

    This community also runs the twitter and facebook presences. I am thankful to Afzel Khan, Sonia Qadir and Zirwat Chowdhury for their labor on behalf of CM.