The mega protest of the gritty Sikh farmers against the controversial farm laws has even attracted international attention. The Sikh community which enjoys a unique culinary tradition finds extreme joy in cooking and serving food to others. It was around 96 years ago that Kerala tasted the first morsel of chapathi that was brought to the South by the Sikhs.
The iconic Vaikom Satyagraha could be credited for introducing chapathi to the Keralite palettes. The spirit of the agitation that started in 1924 had reached even the distant lands. A group of the Akali community, with turbans on their heads and generousness in their hearts, travelled all the way from Punjab to Kerala to offer their support. They rolled wheat dough, cooked them over the firewood stove and served the agitators tasty and soft chapathis.
The Akali community has always fought for introducing timely reforms in their gurudwaras. So, they were excited to know that a section of people in Kerala was agitating for their rights. A group of Akalis reached Travancore within a few weeks of knowing about the Vaikom Satyagraha. They immediately set up a langar or a community kitchen where food was cooked and served not only for the agitators but also to those who asked for food. The tradition of opening langars goes back to times of the third guru of the Sikhs. The Guru insisted that whoever comes to visit him must be served good food. He had also opened a special eatery for that. The legends say that even emperor Akbar had to comply to this rule when he came to visit the great ascetic. The Sikhs make sure to honour this tradition by setting up community kitchens to feed people wherever they can.
As per the instructions of the Punjab Prabandak Shiromani Committee, the Akali group led by Lala Lal Singh and Kripal Singh had opened a community kitchen at Vaikom in 1924. They lovingly served great food from early in the morning to eight at night. Keralites had enjoyed the various wheat dishes that were introduced by the Sikhs. Among them chapathi stood out for its texture, taste and easiness to cook.
However, Gandhiji was against the Sikhs serving food for the agitators. He thought that the Akalis’ gesture was pointless and it hurt the sentiments and self respect of the Keralites and the Satyagraha itself. Gandhiji said that he could perceive Keralites eating at the community kitchen as only an act of receiving alms. He believed that when a person who has his own means to eat is actually receiving alms when he eats at the community kitchen.
As Gandhiji was unhappy with the agitators eating from the Akali community kitchen, the protestors stopped going there and opened another kitchen of their own. Meanwhile, the Sikhs insisted that they wouldn’t shut down their kitchen unless directly instructed by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabanda Committee. Finally, Sardar KM Panicker received a telegram that all the members of the committee had agreed to wrap up the community kitchen at Vaikom. Though the Akali Sikhs returned to Punjab, Keralites didn’t forget the tastes and flavours introduced by them. It didn’t take too long for the humble chapathi to become a staple of Malayalis. Even after more than nine decades, chapathi remains a super star on our dining tables making harmony with countless side dishes.