Chapati … A Precedent for the Twitter Revolts in North Africa?

Indian meals begin with chapati .. a true wonder bread.

This morning, reading an Indian view of the events in Egypt, I made a discovery … chapatis are a symbol of the use of social networking for revolution!


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. ….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.

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.

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