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 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 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

The Legend of the Chola King Karikalan

The beautiful Ekambareswara temple is in the heart of Kanchipuram. At its entrance, the statue of King Karikalan welcomes you. Why is it here? Because, according to one legend, Karikalan built this temple! We do not know if the legend is true, but we do know that he was a swashbuckling hero and a master-builder. Above: Karikala statue at Ekambareswara Temple. Image Credit: S V Kaushik … Continue reading The Legend of the Chola King Karikalan

The astonishing story of India’s first Railroad

Most Indians believe that the first train in India ran in 1853 between Bori Bunder in present day Mumbai and Thane, but that was the first passenger train. The very first train in Indian history arrived almost two decades before that. Here’s the astonishing story about The Red Hills Railway. Steam engines were definitely involved, but so were cattle and even wind! How was that … Continue reading The astonishing story of India’s first Railroad

Mark Twain in Mumbai

This picture shows you, what used to be the grand Watson’s Hotel in Bombay. This ghost of a building known today as Esplanade Mansion, quietly awaits its fate in the Fort area of Mumbai. But before its sad demise, the hotel saw many glittering days and equally glittering people. In 1896, an American author and satirist came to India. He had made much money in … Continue reading Mark Twain in Mumbai