Vacations to Madras (Chennai) in the 1960s always included a drive down Mount Road: tourists HAD TO SEE modern India’s very own skyscraper called “L-I-C.” The LIC building was the regional Headquarters of “Life Insurance Corporation”, a government-owned mega-corporation. To the average Indian, it was the saviour during financial risks and disasters. Ironically, the LIC itself faced many risks and disasters before becoming Chennai’s iconic landmark. Continue reading The LIC Story
Why do good, normal people face terrible misfortunes like sickness or financial ruin? Great civilisations, from the Greeks, to the Egyptians, to the Persians, have analysed this question and hit upon the same answer: the Evil-Eye! If a person enjoys success in any way, someone is sure to look at him/her with a jealous glare, and that unleashes bad energies. Continue reading How India deceives the Evil-Eye
In the early 1600s, Portugal, Holland and Britain, Europe’s superpowers at that time, were embroiled in a struggle to dominate India. Even while they were fighting it out, Denmark quietly managed to establish a colony in Tranquebar in 1620. Tranquebar is Danish for Tarangambadi, a seaside town about 280km from Chennai. As the little colony prospered, the Danish King Frederick IV decided to “civilise” his Indian subjects with Christian values. But this was easier said than done. Continue reading The Man who Produced the First Tamil Bible
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
We learnt a little ditty as kids, which I vaguely remember now: For want of a shoe, the horse was lost For want of a horse, the knight was lost For want of a knight the battle was lost All for want of a horse-shoe If shoes can cost you the battle, boots can win wars too. At least one cobbler ardently believed so. In … Continue reading General Wellington gets the boot!
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?
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
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 (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
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