Madras Museum Theater

The maker of the Madras Museum

About 4 Kms from the Madras Museum is a very short road called Balfour Road. It is so short, that even local politicians who love ‘indianising’ English street names, have overlooked it! Ah, who was the honourable Balfour? Dr. Edward Green Balfour came to India as an army doctor in 1834 and retired as Surgeon-General of Madras in 1876.  This good doctor was more than … Continue reading The maker of the Madras Museum

Vegetarianism in India

Surely, you are Vegetarian?

Take a guess, what percentage of India is vegetarian? If you answered, 70% or more — congratulations, you are in the majority: but you are HOPELESSLY WRONG! Only about 31% of India’s population is vegetarian. Surely, we must be wrong? Did we not include the people of Tamil Nadu who supposedly eat only Idli, Dosai and Vadai with Sambaar? We did, but only 10 – … Continue reading Surely, you are Vegetarian?

How the English fell in love with Tea

Just think: in the one second you took to read the title of this post; 25000 cups of tea had been drunk all over the world. Tea is the most popular beverage in the world — second only to bottled water. The Chinese invented tea-brewing probably before the 2nd century BC. They were, (and are) the largest tea producers of the world. For thousands of … Continue reading How the English fell in love with Tea

The English Governor who loved Sanskrit

Above: The Sanskrit College at Benares established in 1791 by Jonathan Duncan for the study of Hindu law and Philosophy. The St. Thomas Cathedral in Horniman Circle is the oldest Anglican Church in Mumbai. Inside the Church are many memorials to distinguished Englishmen. Yet, Governor Jonathan Duncan’s memorial stands out. It features a statue of a Hindu Brahmin priest in a meditative mood, under a … Continue reading The English Governor who loved Sanskrit

Thomas Daniell: The Painter of Landscapes

Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) began as a painter of coaches in a workshop. Yet, deep down inside, he dreamt of being a great landscape artist. After a couple of years of coach painting, he got a chance to study at the Royal Academy of Arts. After graduating, he produced a number of landscapes during 1772-84; but these brought him neither glory nor wealth. Ultimately, he decided … Continue reading Thomas Daniell: The Painter of Landscapes

The Real Emden

When we were kids, cocky braggarts were often silenced with “nee periya EMDEN-O?”. (Liberal translation: “You have the arrogance to presume you are an EMDEN?”). In colloquial Tamil, Emden is a fearsome, invincible entity. Now, how did a Germanic word sneak past linguistic purists into everyday Tamil? Blame it on World War-I. When the WW-I began, Germany wanted to harass Allied shipping in the Indian … Continue reading The Real Emden

The Portuguese Soldier who saved Kochi

Pacheco rightly guessed that Samuthiri’s huge army would pass through a narrow riverine pass called Kumbalam to reach Kochi; in that narrow pass they were extremely vulnerable. Pacheco’s men took hidden positions and waited there. As Samuthiri’s men arrived, Portuguese snipers effortlessly killed 1300 enemy soldiers.   Pacheco knew that Samuthiri’s state-of-the-art Italian field-guns had a deadly range and accuracy; so, he ordered his snipers … Continue reading The Portuguese Soldier who saved Kochi

The Marriage of Princess Catherine

Nobody asked for Catherine’s consent to marry Charles. Yes! When Catherine de Braganza, Princess of Portugal, came of age, they simply sent her portraits to Royalty in France, Austria and other Catholic European countries. But,  no wedding proposals materialised. One reason was that Portugal’s arch-rivals — the Spanish — were spreading rumours that the real Catherine was ugly and unfit to bear children. Why? If … Continue reading The Marriage of Princess Catherine

The Dutch Defector & The Kerala King

By the late 17th century, Holland was a naval and economic superpower. The Dutch East India Company was the largest multinational ever, and it dominated the world spice trade. Much of these spices came from the Indian state of Kerala where the Dutch had a stranglehold on purchases. This monopoly was not because of superior business strategy; it simply came from military power. They arm-twisted … Continue reading The Dutch Defector & The Kerala King