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
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
Between 1298 CE and 1306 CE, the fearsome and bloodthirsty Mongols of Central Asia attacked India on six different occasions. Each time, they were pushed back by Alauddin Khilji, emperor of the Delhi Sultanate. He was helped by his most trusted general, Malik Kafur. Did you know that Malik Kafur was eunuch? Continue reading Eunuchs in Ancient India
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
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
We learnt a little ditty as kids, which I vaguely remember now: For want of a shoe, the horse was lost For want of a horse, the knight was lost For want of a knight the battle was lost All for want of a horse-shoe If shoes can cost you the battle, boots can win wars too. At least one cobbler ardently believed so. In … Continue reading General Wellington gets the boot!
Take a guess, what percentage of India is vegetarian? If you answered, 70% or more — congratulations, you are in the majority: but you are HOPELESSLY WRONG! Only about 31% of India’s population is vegetarian. Surely, we must be wrong? Did we not include the people of Tamil Nadu who supposedly eat only Idli, Dosai and Vadai with Sambaar? We did, but only 10 – … Continue reading Surely, you are Vegetarian?
Just think: in the one second you took to read the title of this post; 25000 cups of tea had been drunk all over the world. Tea is the most popular beverage in the world — second only to bottled water. The Chinese invented tea-brewing probably before the 2nd century BC. They were, (and are) the largest tea producers of the world. For thousands of … Continue reading How the English fell in love with Tea
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
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