The Indian Travelogue of Niccolao Manucci

When the Mughal Prince, Dara Shikoh was defeated by his brother, Aurangzeb, he had an Italian artilleryman in his employ by the name of Nicolau Manucci. According to Manucci, he was offered the chance to join Aurangzeb’s army but he decided to flee instead. In his memoir, Storia do Mogor (or Story of the Mughal), Manucci paints a fabulous picture of his life and casts himself as the long-suffering hero and Aurangzeb as the evil villain, his arch-nemesis. But can we believe him? Continue reading The Indian Travelogue of Niccolao Manucci

The Pirate-Admiral of the Konkan

The main base of the Western Naval Command in Mumbai is, like all naval bases, named as a ship would be. It’s called the INS Angre. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting the naval base, you can spot an imposing statue taking pride of place. It is the statue of a fierce warrior of the Maratha Empire, sporting an even fiercer moustache. This is the base’s namesake, Admiral Kanhoji Angre, one of the Indian Navy’s historical heroes. Continue reading The Pirate-Admiral of the Konkan

The Great Wall of Thorns

In 1885, tax on salt was the third-largest source of revenue for the British Raj. To stop smugglers trying to avoid the tax, the British instituted the Inland Customs Line, which grew as their own territories expanded. The Inland Customs Line was essentially a line of check posts to collect tax on salt coming from outside British territory. But because the line snaked from Punjab to Odisha… Continue reading The Great Wall of Thorns

The Portuguese Doctor Who Fled To India

The first contact between India and Portugal was when Vasco da Gama landed on the coast of Kerala in 1498. Over the next century or so, the Portuguese would become a permanent fixture in Goa, using it as a waypoint in their dealings with the islands of SouthEast Asia. In all their time in India, the Portuguese were not the friendliest lot. They had a very clear goal in the East: make heaps of money through trade and colonisation. So they had little interest in the culture and knowledge of these faraway lands. But there were some exceptions. One such exception was Garcia de Orta, a Portuguese physician, who wrote one of the first books printed in India. Continue reading The Portuguese Doctor Who Fled To India

Rembrandt’s Mughals

Even if you know nothing else about him, you’ve probably heard the name ‘Rembrandt’ at some point in your life. You might even have seen one of his famous paintings: maybe The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, where a group of men lean over a cadaver as a doctor reveals what a hand looks like without skin, or maybe the dashing company of swordsmen featured in the sprawling canvas of The Night Watch. Rembrandt is considered one of the masters of the Dutch Golden Age of painting. At some point, in the mid-1600s,
Rembrandt came across examples of Mughal art and was so inspired by their noble-looking subjects and elaborate costumes, that he began to produce work in that style. Continue reading Rembrandt’s Mughals

How Kerala Adopted Kappa

As he travelled the world, evangelising the cuisines of diverse cultures, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once said, “Meals make the society.” In that vein, it’s hard to imagine visiting a state like Kerala and not munching on tapioca chips dusted with chilli powder or savouring some spicy kappa meen (tapioca and fish) curry. These dishes feel like classic recipes, handed down across generations. But would you believe that tapioca came to Kerala less than 200 years ago? It’s true!
Continue reading How Kerala Adopted Kappa