The Bene Israelis of India

In the 18th century, during the third Anglo-Mysore war, the ruthless Tipu Sultan captured a group of army officers fighting for the British and ordered their execution. But when Tipu’s mother discovered the identity of two brothers among them, she requested they be spared. She said that the Quran spoke highly of them. And the Sultan complied! The two brothers were Bene Israelis. Continue reading The Bene Israelis of India

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

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 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

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 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

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

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

Subterranean Mumbai

Big cities are full of secrets, and Mumbai is no exception. Tucked-away in the city’s myriad neighbourhoods there are moss-covered graveyards, abandoned railway stations, paved-over rivers and secret underground bunkers and tunnels. Just in the last ten years, four different underground spaces have been discovered in South Mumbai. And they’re all right under where the old British fort once stood. Why are they there? Continue reading Subterranean Mumbai