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

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

A European Duel in South India

In 1740, war broke out in Europe. The reason? The king of the Austrian Empire died that year. And in an unprecedented move, he left it so that his daughter, Princess Maria Theresa, would inherit the crown. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with the former king. Other kingdoms and nations in Europe said that Maria could not rule the empire because she was a woman. While … Continue reading A European Duel in South India

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 Letters That Destroyed a Sultan

India was always famous for its wealth and resources. And it was the promise of all this wealth and resources that lured many foreign nations to Indian shores. The British arrived in 1612 and the French in 1668. Both began a race for supremacy. The Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 ended that race. The British had successfully crushed … Continue reading The Letters That Destroyed a Sultan

The Satavahanas and India’s Ancient Tollgates

Some of the oldest art in India dating back to the 1st century BC, can be found in the Ajantha caves of Maharashtra. Magnificent murals found here depict Buddhist and Hindu deities and figures. These caves and their paintings were created not long after the death of Buddha under the patronage of a dynasty called the Satavahanas. Who were they? Above: Mural from the Cave … Continue reading The Satavahanas and India’s Ancient Tollgates

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