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

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 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

Plague in Bombay

Hong Kong in May 1894 was rife with bubonic plague. Within a short time, this extremely deadly and virulent epidemic had claimed a few hundred lives. Hong Kong was a busy port city with ships travelling out carrying valuable cargo and many people every day. Seaborne, the plague soon arrived in Bombay (Mumbai), a city which even in those days housed over 820,000 people. How … Continue reading Plague in Bombay

Jataka Tales: The Buddha’s many lives

Once upon a time, an acorn fell on top of a little bird named Chicken Little and he thought the skies were coming down. He made a huge commotion and set the other animals running as well. This story is a part of Aesop’s Fables. But even before Aesop and Chicken Little, there was a hare in an Indian Jungle who feared that doomsday was … Continue reading Jataka Tales: The Buddha’s many lives

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