The Fierce Queen of Travancore

In the late 1600s, the most respected and the most formidable ruler in Kerala was a queen. Her name was Umayamma Rani and she was the senior-most Queen of the Kingdom of Attingal. You might think that at a time when men ruled, and women were kept locked away in their houses, a powerful queen was an exception, but in fact, she was not. Umayamma came from a long line of powerful queens who, for centuries, had ruled a little kingdom called Attingal. Continue reading The Fierce Queen of Travancore

The Story of Sugar

In the old days, sugar really was a prize worth winning! In 16th century England, sugar was a luxury item, a fine spice that only the wealthy and powerful could afford. The traders who sold sugar were minting money, and soon their name for sugar was “white gold”. It was considered a luxury because there were only a few places in the world where sugarcane was grown and then processed into sugar. Continue reading The Story of Sugar

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

The Sassoons: A Jewish Family which helped Build Bombay

Many ultra-rich families like the Waltons, the Koch brothers, and the Rothschilds have been in the public eye, but not much attention has been paid to the Sassoon family. The Sassoons have deliberately kept a low profile, despite being one of the world’s oldest remaining banking dynasties. But this was not always the case. If you were a visitor to Bombay in the mid-1800s strolling through the wide streets, and admiring the local architecture, you would have instantly noticed that the Sassoon name popped up more than any other. Continue reading The Sassoons: A Jewish Family which helped Build Bombay

The Man who Produced the First Tamil Bible

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

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

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