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

How India deceives the Evil-Eye

Why do good, normal people face terrible misfortunes like sickness or financial ruin? Great civilisations, from the Greeks, to the Egyptians, to the Persians, have analysed this question and hit upon the same answer: the Evil-Eye! If a person enjoys success in any way, someone is sure to look at him/her with a jealous glare, and that unleashes bad energies. Continue reading How India deceives the Evil-Eye

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!
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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

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