The Real Emden

When we were kids, cocky braggarts were often silenced with “nee periya EMDEN-O? (நீ பெரிய எம்டனோ ?)”. Liberal translation: “Oh, You have the arrogance to presume you are  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…

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…

The Dobash who deposed the French Governor

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, many European powers came to trade with, and colonise, Indian territories. Most Europeans never bothered to learn any Indian language; instead, they appointed Indian officials called Dobashes, to help them conduct local business. The Hindi word Dobash is derived from Dobashi. Taken literally, it meant “double-speaker”; of course, it…

The Portuguese Scholar who saved Kochi

Most people believe that Vasco da Gama was the founder of Portuguese power in India. Quite the contrary! That honour should go to Captain-Major Duarte Pacheco Pereira. Vasco da Gama blunders… Around 1497-98, The King of Calicut (in India’s south-western coast) was a key player in world spice trade. His honorific title was Samuthiri (aka…

The Marriage of Princess Catherine

Nobody asked for Catherine’s consent to marry Charles. Yes! When Catherine of Braganza (aka Catarina de Braganca), 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…