Nov 18, 2010

THE Truth about Indians!

Scene: 1
9000 miles away from the Himalayan country. Far to the west. Silicon valley. A refreshing evening at Microsoft office. An Indian software engineer enjoys his first team dinner with his American colleagues. Suddenly when a discussion on cultural identities strikes, the Indian strongly claims, “I’m PROUD to be an INDIAN!” A white guy sitting opposite, quickly asks, “I’ve heard that the Indus Valley Civilization had sophisticated cities 4,500 years ago! Do you know more about that? Can you share with us…?” Before he could complete, a British teammate interrupts, “I’ve heard from my father that the Chola Kings had such a vast empire that even includes today’s Indonesia and Malaysia! Can you tell us more about that please…?” The interested and earnest eyes stare at the Indian with so much expectation. But the “Proud” Indian software engineer has no clue what they are talking about. He blinks. He has no answer. He murmurs with embarrassment- “Sorry, I don’t know”.

Scene: 2
9000 miles away from the Pacific. Far to the east. Bay of Bengal coast. A humid and scorching mid-week afternoon at Chennai city. An uncontrollable crowd fills the neighborhood. Amidst this is a cinema theatre whose fa├žade is totally covered with huge movie hoardings. Two young high school guys come out of the theater with so much pride, after watching ‘Endhiran, The Robot’ movie the third time. As soon as they get past the crowd, they rush to a nearby shop to watch a cricket match between India and Pakistan. It's nerve-racking, well enough to shoot up their blood pressure to its abnormal levels. Patriotism sees its height in the hearts of those young guys. It’s the final over and the match ends with a sensation - India wins. There is a mad rush of adrenaline. One of them leaps high in the air and shouts, “INDIA ..INDIA ..INDIA !!!” The other one says with exuding pride, “I’m PROUD to be an INDIAN!”.  On the way back home, one of them says, “the afternoon was very nicely spent!” The other one quips, “Of course! Who would attend a long, dreary session on ‘Indian Freedom Struggle’?! What a bore!” Yes, their afternoon was earned by bunking off their history class at school. While they walked back home, they continued reviewing ‘Enthiran, The Robot’ movie.

What is the inference that stands out clear as a crystal here? We, today’s Indians, SPEAK-OUT-LOUD to be 'Indian', but don’t really know anything about its proud, long history. However, we love watching movies a lot, and we are patriotic at least when it comes to cricket! The bottom-line is that history, patriotism and knowledge can be fed to today’s Indians only in a “delicious version”- mixed with honey – set in the right tenor- and pampered with the most fashionable format of the day!

That happens to be one of the primary missions of the Enlightened Niche. As a first step, “Indian history in 5 minutes” video has been created. As a first step to be a “Proud” Indian, why don’t you know India’s history today?

Share the history with the world!

Oct 30, 2010

Is your distant cousin in Indonesia, aunt in South Africa and grandfather in West Indies?

My Canadian friend boasts of his ancestry to be a mix of Scottish and Norwegian. But I’m more than glad of what I am, and what my genes are composed of. 

The first humans on earth are said to have originated in Africa/ India 70,000 years ago. This has been bolstered by the tests done on the tribes of a village in Tamil Nadu, India who all carry the M130 gene which is one of the oldest genes of the humans. Dravidian (people of South India, majorly) gene characteristics have been preserved relatively well, unmixed with other races for a very long time. But that doesn't infer that Indians, in general remained intact their places and did not migrate. The country has seen huge waves of migrations throughout its long history.

Madras in 1925

The capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is Madras (Chennai). There is also a city called Madras in the Oregon state of the US. There is a Madras Street in Canterbury, New Zealand. There is a Madras Road in Cambridge, England and also in Glasgow, Scotland. There is a Madras Place in Islington, England and also in Glasgow, Scotland. There is a Madras Way in Southern River,  Australia and a Madras Crescent in Port Kennedy, Australia and a Madras settlement road in Cunupia, Trinidad. How on earth did these places in different corners of the world get the name of an Indian city?? Was it because of contemporary immigrants, or because of a historical settlement of a much older time? We don't have an idea. Had family trees been piously created and preserved by our ancestors, we could have had an answer today.

Hungarian Gypsies
Since ancient times, migrations to different countries have been pretty common and significant in India. During the recent centuries, the British had been responsible for such migrations, and now IT MNCs like Infosys, TCS and Accenture are! One of the most significant migrations after 1100 CE was from the state of Rajasthan and the Sindh region towards the west into Europe. They are the 11 million of those people that are scattered around the world today, who are none other than the Romani people or the Gypsies. Between 11th and 13th centuries CE, when the Chola Kingdom was in its height of power, they sent their fleet to and captured the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. A huge emigration to South East Asia and a cultural mix happened during this period. During the Battle of Manila in 1762, the British used massive troops from Madras and this caused subsequent migrations into Philippines. Finally, the Abolition of slavery act seemed to have written the destiny of the Indian diaspora across the whole world in the following decades.

Immigrant Indians in Guyana ca. 1850
Since the abolition of slavery act left a void of laborers in their colonies, starting from the 19th century, the Britishers orchestrated the successive migrations, in the name of indentures. The first wave was in 1834 when Indentured workers from India (Bhojpuris) were sent to Mauritius to work in the sugarcane fields. (A century earlier, the Tamil construction workers had been sent here, by the French). Now these people form 70% of the country’s population. In 1838, another huge migration of indentured workers was initiated by the British. Starting with Guyana, there was an influx of over half a million to the Caribbean islands (Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, etc.). Most of them were from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, while people from Tamil Nadu forming the majority in Guadeloupe and Martinique. 1860 saw the first substantial migration to South Africa, of which the majority were from Tamil Nadu, forming a population of 1 Million today. In the later years, the Sikhs from the Punjab region were recruited in the British Indian army and most of them were working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. During Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 1897, they got to visit Canada, and this attracted a huge migration into Canada and the US. After independence, many Punjabis migrated to the UK mainly in the 1950s. Today, over 4.5 million of Sikhs live outside India. All these Indian diaspora have been complemented by immigration of professionals since the 20th century. 

Indulge yourself in building your family tree and a little genealogy research. No wonder if you happen to find your distant cousin in Indonesia, aunt in South Africa and grandfather in West Indies today!

"Do you know the name of your great grandfather’s father?"

A conversation with an average man:
"Do you know about the lives of the mighty Indian kings of the Chola kingdom and their history"?
"History about the kings?? Who cares about a king who ruled my country 1000 years ago? He is not related to me by any means. I’m an earnest family man. It’s a competitive world. I care only about my family. And I don't feel bad to be selfish."
"Agreed. So only your family is important for you. OK, so what is the name of your great grandfather's father?"

"Well.. Err….. ?!?!?!?????!!"

If indifference to history is reasoned to be because of selfishness, what could be one good reason behind not even knowing one’s own family’s history?

Genealogy is the study of family histories and tracing lineages. I’ve known 5 generations above my ancestral tier. It’s not just a hobby that is exciting and satisfying, but it also brings out a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations. With the emergence of social media sites like Facebook, the concept of "building one's network" has become so popular. Many genealogy sites like have also sprouted. These sites help you build your own family tree where you can create a profile with all information for each of your family members and ancestors. Sparing a few moments of your Facebook time and building your family tree with a little research could yield wonders (you can brag about your ‘big network’ here as well!). In the course of time, you may even end up tracing back your ancestry to ancient kings and even to different countries! Hitherto unknown family connections (with other users' family trees) can be uncovered too. It would be extremely interesting and satisfying (unless it happens that you discover your girlfriend to be your distant cousin :P)

It is very common in many Asian cultures to celebrate death anniversaries in commemoration of deceased family members. During such anniversaries, it is typical to do rituals in front of old photos of the deceased ancestor with offerings of all the food dishes which were the ancestor's favorites during his/her life time. Sometimes, the rituals continue with a food offering to cows and crows too. And after the rituals, the “offered” food is devoured in its full amounts by all the relatives who attend the ceremony. Rather than just seeing this as a ceremony just for the heck of it and for eating a sumptuous line up of food varieties, it could be rationally used for discussing about the life of the ancestor and making the young generation draw inspiration out of it! Here, the long tradition of ancestor worship is not being condemned, but rather it is insisted that a death anniversary should not just stop with a customary ritual. Instead, it should be a starting point to a worthy learning of a lifetime to younger generations! With the ancestors being consciously remembered and learnt from, every year, can there be a better way to make their souls rest in peace?

Today there are over 25 million people of Indian origin, who live in different countries of the world. They have emigrated to the Malay archipelago, South Africa, Caribbean islands, Canada, US, UK, Australia and to many other countries. But most of these people have lost their Indian identity, ethnic authenticity and forgot their ancestral connections. Blame them not, when someone in your household doesn’t know the name of your great grandfather’s father. 
Oh, is that YOU I’m referring to, here?!

Oct 12, 2010

My Naadi astrology experience- a truly bewitching one- Part II

(continued from my previous post)

As I was totally immersed into reading the article on the wall, I didn’t notice a hand coming towards my shoulder. “Tap!” 
Someone patted at my back. My contemplation was instantly disturbed. “Please stand in the queue!!”, a distant voice yelled. I joined the long queue stretching out to the street. Finally when it was my turn, I was taken to the ‘pooja’ (prayer) hall. As I entered, I was awestruck to see thousands of old palm leaves stocked inside a series of cupboards. A big picture of siddhar Agathiyar quickly caught my attention. Then my right thumb impression was taken on a small card and my initial and place of residence were also noted down on the card (my full name wasn’t asked). Then I was asked to wait in the lounge along with the rest of the crowd. Time rolled on, and lot of people in the lounge were called out at regular intervals, informing that their leaf had been identified. As for me, it had been two hours, and no news yet.

I was pondering about how I would prove to my friend that this is fake and convince him tonight. Soon it was lunch time, and I went for a light meal, and returned to the place again. I had whiled away five hours in that strange place, and no news yet! I sighed, and almost confirmed that this whole thing was just a poor old trick. Suddenly, one of the employees appeared in the lounge and called out, “Sanatorium – H, your leaf has been found. You may proceed to the room downstairs!”. Sanatorium was the place where I lived, and H is my initial. Yes, it was me. My palm leaf had been found out.

The story grips.  As I anxiously proceeded to the room, an astrologer who seemed religious with his simple outfits and a wide forehead fully covered with holy ash, beckoned me inside. He had a set of old, crippling palm leaves (written in vatteluthu Tamil script). He claimed one of those palm leaves to be mine (WHAT?!). He flipped through the hundreds of palm leaves in the set one by one, and read out some info. Every time before he moved on to the next leaf, he asked if any of the information was about me. After several such questions, he said he brought a wrong piece, and that he’d bring the right one. I could almost hear a loud cynical laugh from my deep insides.

He was back soon with a new set of palm leaves. He asked me so many yes-or-no questions and I almost lost interest in this game, and frantically shook my head for all his questions. As he flipped through the leaves, suddenly he uttered a name and questioned me if that was my dad’s name. I slowly raised my head, looked at him in astonishment and nodded. This was indeed the moment of truth. My dad has a very unique name that is often misspelled, but he uttered my dad’s name in its perfect spelling! I was totally flabbergasted how in the world my dad's name could have been written on that leaf! 

Then he sat back, now seemed even more poised, and said that he had identified my own naadi leaf. He continued reading an ancient incomprehensible Tamil poem from the leaf and I was put to shock again- I heard him uttering my mom’s name. He read on, to say that I’ve sought Naadi at my age of 21. ("well, it's not rocket science to say what my age was, after looking at me. But how come my dad and mom’s names?!") He read out a hymn as Agathiyar praising Lord Shiva, and then came my name, what I was studying, how many siblings I have, what my dad and mom’s professions were, etc, etc, etc. I had an uneasy feeling that I was starting to lose the battle. He read out the exact date when I was born, and all the planetary positions during my birth. He also added that I was born on a Friday. But to my joy, this one wasn't true! 

I quickly said to him that it was wrong and that I was almost sure that I was rather born on a Wednesday, and not a Friday. With a confident smile, he replied back that he was just reading what’s written on the leaf and asserted that the leaf says that I was born on a Friday and that couldn't be wrong. Then he continued reading. He started to read about my future- when I would start working, where and what will be my profession, whether and when I will fly to a foreign country, when would I get married, so on and so forth, up until the end of my life. I gasped at the moment he uttered my dad’s name, and I remember I breathed again only after he completed reading about my whole life.

Thousands of questions were spawning and proliferating in my mind, from several directions. Is this real, or am I still dreaming?? I could wake up right now, right at this moment and prove that this is all fake! But well, my excited heart rate asserts to me that I’m awake. This is happening for real. But how could it be possible? How could someone have written each and every detail about me, my family and my future, several thousand years ago? My senses were eating me for finding an answer, but in vain. After an hour’s time, I was given a notebook where the whole manuscript was copied on to.

This was truly a mind-boggling experience. All of these seemed to be unquestionably authentic and true, except for my day of birth. Interestingly, just this seemed to be wrong. I quickly sent a text message to my dad: “Dad, was I born on a Friday?!”. I was forced to think about all possible tricks that could have made this possible. I got reminded of a skill that a handful of people possess- ‘Mind-reading’. Some people are supposed to possess this extrasensory skill with which they could “pull out” words from one’s fresh memory. Before a mind-reader would tell what your name was, he would start with, “so, your name is...”. As your mind would be instantly waiting with your name to validate with his answer, a mind-reader can pull it out – as it is commonly believed. I was cross-checking my event with a suspicion of mind-reading. The naadi astrologer could’ve been a mind reader, and that’s how he was able to tell me my name and my parents' names. But there is no explanation for the future predictions. But wait- when I myself thought I was born on a Wednesday, why did he say that to be a Friday?! So, this cannot be mind-reading too. Sigh.. But why just my day of birth was wrong in the palm leaf? I left the place. Besides being thoroughly amazed, I was also confused. 

During my journey back home, I was riding a local train that was too noisy and unusually crowded. But I was deaf to the external world. I didn’t hear a thing other than the millions of questions being asked within myself. I was deeply contemplating. “BEEP- BEEP!” My mobile phone’s SMS tone distorts my contemplation. 

It’s from dad: “Yes, indeed”. 

Now, only the amazement persists.

Oct 8, 2010

My Naadi astrology experience- a truly bewitching one!

It was 6 years ago. I was living with my college friends in the city’s suburb. We never got the real seriousness until it’s the final exam time of the semester. It was such a joyful evening when my friend dropped by my place. Soon my roommates also joined for a chat with him. As we were discussing, rambling and laughing about college trivia, he suddenly started a new topic that jumped off the track of our conversation- it was about ghosts and spirits.

Though I never believed in any of these stories, I did not ever miss a discussion on ghosts. These discussions invariably start with 2 or 3 people and end with a big crowd of 10-12 people. Spooky stories are always enchanting and definitely a crowd puller. Back to the story- my friend said that he had been long suspecting that his house was haunted by a spirit. He also cited some creepy unexplainable incidents like “black images”, “hollow space” “shadows without an object” moving hither and thither at his place. This was happening for long. Only later did he learn from his landlord that the house had been vacant for years, before he moved in. It had been occupied by a family which moved out after a 9-year old girl in the household committed suicide. Though his narrative made us hold breath at irregular periods and left us open-mouthed, to me, it was just a nicely concocted story.

Then he added that the spirit of a killed or a prematurely dead human would lament, cry aloud and beg, on seeing its body being cremated in grave yard, longing to get back to its body. It sounded so irrational to my senses and I argued back. My roommates also started making fun of him for all that he had been saying hitherto. It definitely kindled his wrath and being unable to prove anything that he said, he quickly stood up, and snarled, “You guys may laugh at me now. But you will understand very soon!” He added, “I’m sure you guys won’t believe if I said, you can even know what your previous births were, and where your next birth will be! Naadi astrology tells you that. Go, see it for yourself!” He quickly disappeared from the spot. Even after a long time after he left, his last sentence was haunting me during the darkest times of that night. Rest is the main story.

The word ‘Naadi’ kept resonating in my mind even the following day. I’ve heard about such an astrological practice many times during the previous years. But I was never so interested in seeking it, and even at times when I thought of giving it a try, I was indifferent or I had more important things to do. However, this time, this overwhelming force made me become all the more keen on seeking it. But only for one simple reason- to prove to my friend that all that was just a humbug. The next moment, I was standing in front of this place where Naadi astrology is sought. I couldn’t help myself.

It was just a big house, with a board ("Agathiya Naadi center") hanging in the front. I entered the building with some reluctance as I’ve never been to an astrology place before in life. The place was buzzing with activities and packed with people who I could easily identify to be of different cultures, and some were from different countries too. I noticed a picture of a king who I later understood to be the Maratha king Serfoji, who had preserved the naadi palm leaves. The wall opposite to it was almost left with no space as a lot of paper cuttings of magazine articles had been stuck. It was obvious that each of the paper cuttings was from magazines in different languages such as German, Japanese, Chinese, English, Tamil, etc. I was attracted to an article titled, “Is there a next birth?”. As I was totally immersed into reading the article, I didn’t notice a hand coming towards my shoulder. “Tap!”

To be continued in my next post

Sep 29, 2010

Your life-long diary had been written 4000 years ago by someone else!

Many of my friends have asked me to write more about Naadi astrology and my own experience with it. Right at the outset, I have to acknowledge that I’ve been an outright skeptic of all forms of astrology prevailing in the world. Almost all forms of astrology practised in the world (like Hindu astrology, Western astrology and Chinese astrology) are based on the relative positions of celestial bodies. But interestingly, Naadi astrology differs from this. It is more of an ‘occult prediction’ recorded on palm leaves supposedly 4000 years ago, for the future human generations on earth. But did Naadi change my perceptions on astrology? What did it do to me? Did it succeed, or fail to prove itself? We’ll see all that in my next post! Before that, let me unravel the mystic and the most interesting Naadi astrology..

Naadi astrology (Naadi jyothidam) has been practised in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, for thousands of years. These were written by ancient Tamil sages called ‘Siththars’. The most famous Siththar of all was Agathiyar. He had written Naadi predictions for almost all human beings in the world- for all generations, including our future generations! These had been taken copies of by several generations, and what we have today are palm leaf manuscripts in Tamil vatteluththu script (though a significant proportion has been lost in time). Anyone who seeks Naadi astrology is taken an impression of their thumb (left for females, right for males). Each unique thumbprint forms an index with which the corresponding set of palm leaves can be identified. These palm leaves can be read out by anyone who knows to read Tamil vatteluthu script (as opposed to only astrologers rendering predictions with the other forms). Nothing other than a thumbprint is required. 

The palm leaf manuscript starts with a hymn that praises Lord Shiva, and goes on to say what your name is, what your father’s and mother's names are, when you were born, how many siblings you have, what is your current profession, and goes until it reveals your future life up until death. (Ashtonishing, isn’t it? But how valid is this? We'll see this in my next post!) Well, this is just the basic chapter, which tells an overview of one’s life. There are 11 more chapters which go into detailed predictions about one’s mother, father, siblings, marriage, future spouse (s) and children, relationships, health, diseases, wealth, accidents, rituals that can dilute past bad deeds, business, longevity, etc. Phew.. And not just that- there are also two chapters that talk about your previous birth and where you will be born in your next birth on earth! Creepy enough.

Well, Agathiyar did not write only Naadi astrology, and he is not the only siththar. There were 18 siththars who are considered to be the primary ones. Some of them are Agathiyar, Thirumoolar, Korakkar and Bogar. Each siththar had 8 great powers (siththis) such as Anima (to become as tiny as an atom), Mahima (to become big in unshakeable proportions), Laghima (to become as light as vapour in levitation, Prapti (to enter into other bodies in transmigration). Agathiyar is also said to have lived for 1000 years (Can't take it? Well, the biblical Noah lived for 950 years according to the Old Testament of Bible. Very ancient history is beyond proofs. We’d rather not waste time in pondering if it’s pseudoscience or not). Besides naadi astrology, the other contributions of these ancient Tamil siththars were writings on: Alchemy, Siddha medicine (using herbs), Tamil grammar and Tantra which were in humongous volumes each (here, it’s superfluous to mention about the ancient Tamil literature’s vastness).

Agathiyar Siththar

And finally, why is it called Naadi?! Naadi means ‘to seek’ in Tamil. It essentially means that you will seek Naadi astrology only when you are destined to do so- on the destined date - which would be mentioned in the first few lines of one's Naadi palm leaf!

I mentioned in one of my previous posts encouraging everyone to write and record their life in their diary. Well, perhaps I should take my word back. Why write one if a Siththar had written yours already 4000 years ago?!

Sep 19, 2010

Are you proud of what you are?

During my visit to the Dutch National Archives, I got to read a Dutch East India Company travel journal.

 The book was fully in Dutch, and when I was flipping through the musty old pages of the huge book, I saw an introduction to the Tamil language, with the alphabet and basic grammar, running for 10 long pages! My head started spinning instantaneously. I couldn’t digest the fact that the Dutch had meticulously recorded the Tamil alphabet and grammar with substantial detail, in their book in 1672! There is also an illustration showing Tamil people practising to write, on sand. I was totally awestruck, and had to rest for a few moments before I could get back to normal. I assume, had the Dutch people’s language been Tamil, they would have even made all their children learn Tamil Vatteluththu script and Tamil Brahmi script along with the contemporary Tamil, at school!! Well, now, what is the current situation in metropolitan cities in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu? -Most school students are learning English as first language and French as second language. Fantastic.

Ancient Tamilians learning to write on sand
This is the world’s last classical language that is still in usage today. We don’t have the other classical languages such as Latin, Attic Greek, Sanskrit, and Classical Chinese in day-to-day usage. All we have today is the ancient language that originated as early as 1500 BCE - endured the tests of time - grew in all wealth of literature, art and science, without any boundaries to prosperity-  Tamil. Excavations(ab) in Southern Tamil Nadu unleashed the world's largest three-tier pre-historic cemetery dating back to 1500 BCE- 500 BCE, with rudimentary Tamil Brahmi engravings on burial urns (the spoken-language's origin should be of a much earlier period). Moreover, artifacts dating circa 100 BCE with Tamil Brahmi engravings have been found in large amounts in Egypt(c), Srilanka, Thailand, etc. This is indeed the language of the Cholas who ruled the Indian peninsula, up to the Kalinga (Orissa) and rising high up to Bengal, and also comprising what are today’s Srilanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and Maldives together!

The Chola Empire during 900-1300 CE
Vatteleththu Tamil script on a Tanjavur temple's walls

The unfounded passion towards the English language could have originated since the colonial period when there was a high demand for English-speaking Indians for jobs. The Germans, Japanese and French are never lured by foreign languages, and this speaks volumes as to why these countries flourish and also why some foreign countries study their languages! Well, not just with Tamil, it's high time all other Indian languages also saw an elevation in people’s own attitudes towards their languages. One who speaks low of his own land, culture and language can only be someone  who feels low of himself (lacking self-esteem). Such a person would certainly feel everything external to him and distant to him to be much worthier. But why would we choose to be such a person, we can rather be dignified of ourselves to be the descendents of a long and rich cultural heritage- by all means!

Bringing huge hopes, this decade sees the youth deeply comprehending the worth of Tamil, showing rays of prosperity after long! History is a cycle; the prosperity in all its grandeur is to be repeated again! The next Golden age of Tamil literature and culture is in the near horizon. It is soon to rise up again, with all its magnificence and power!

Sep 9, 2010

Can you face your great grandson’s grandson?

Since its beginning circa 3300 BCE, the Indus valley civilization flourished with sophisticated urban planning, sanitation systems and writing system until its doom in 1300 BCE. What happened after that? What made people leave their celebrated cities and migrate towards the east, to the Indo-gangetic plain? There is a big gap in history between the Indus valley civilization and the migration into the gangetic plain. There are no historical records on this. Likewise, the golden age of the Tamil civilization, the Sangam age lasted thousands of years until 300 AD when legendary Tamil literatures like Thirukkural were produced and the mighty Chola, Pandya and Cheras ruled the peninsula. But what happened just after that? 300 to 600 AD is said to be the dark ages of the 'Kalabrahs' rule, of which there are no historical documents. Who were they? Why did no one write about them? These are forgotten history, lost in time, and non-revivable.

This has been the fate of the Indians, for thousands and thousands of years. 
A glance through the long timeline of Indian history, shows that no one has been evidently interested in history, and in recording history. This attitude runs until today- with today’s Indians. Though we have had the best of the literature, philosophy, architecture in their colossal amounts, we find no 'historical records' as such. There is no mention of the word ‘history’ in our epics. All we have are inscriptions and foreigners’ accounts of India that lead to some historical knowledge.    

Palm-leaf manuscripts
Most of the ancient literatures were palm-leaf manuscripts. Throwing them into the Kaveri river during the Tamil festival of 'Adi Perukku' had been a tradition! Some of the valuable works have been passed down over the years by word of mouth, within a close line of heirs and finally lost in time.  We are indebted for the ancient Indian history that we know of today, to the European colonialists and many other foreign archaeologists. The culture hasn’t changed yet. Historians and archaeologists aren’t of great professions; engineers and doctors seem to be the only respectable professions of today’s India. Neither are we interested in knowing about and preserving our own family history! Only a handful of people like the Maratha ruler Serfoji II of Thanjavur had been intrigued by history and made great attempts to preserve history. The memory of mankind is at stake. We are obligated to record the heritage of humanity for posterity, before its forgotten forever. 

I’ve been writing diary since my 5th standard. I would vouch that the most interesting book of all, in one’s lifetime can only be his own diary. Simply because it’s a trip to his own past. By writing your journal you create your own time machine! Because you can relive your magical past, ever as you wish!

Well, I’m writing my diaries and I’m also trying to record and preserve some of my ancestors’ history. I would leave a legacy of privilege to the successors to revisit an enchanting past. In 2170 AD, my great grandson’s grandson would question me about what history I have preserved for him. I will have an answer and I will be spared. Will you be?

Aug 31, 2010

"He’s so HHHOT..!!"

This whole thing is turning into a mission now. My second visit to the Dutch national archives happened today. I got to meet an in-house VOC researcher at the archives who is an indologist. It was so exciting to discuss about Dutch East India company history and Tuticorin history with him. (Wait! this doesn't have anything to do with the title)

I had requested for some more maps, and was puzzled to see thin but super-long cartons being brought to me later. Each of these maps were vast, being almost 4x3 feet in size! What an experience it was, to feel the antique maps in their original form and texture! I also saw one of those maps in microfiche (micro-reproduction technique of preservation). Just to keep you all intrigued, here’s a section of a map showing Rama's bridge connecting India and Srilanka.

 My passion for the old, started with an interesting incident in childhood. One of my earliest hobbies was coin-collection. I had always been collecting new coins which got released in the year. I was the first one to hold such coins amongst all in my circle. But only later did I realize that my new coin loses its charm the next year, when it’s nothing but a lame coin. It struck to me that the charm and the value of an ancient coin goes higher and higher every day, every year, unlike my today's new coin!

I’ve had several such fads before. Some recent ones were Sithar, Naadi astrology, and Dracula. But these fads never missed to leave a big deal of knowledge-legacy to me. (I’m yet to write about some of these, which I will, soon).

Well, what’s with the title of this post?! Yesterday, I was talking about all this stuff to one of my friends. At one point, I understood that he came to a conclusion that I was a nerd! But he’s mistaken. You know what, the world’s changing. The cute girls of the generation Z would look at such a person and mumble, “Woowww, he’s so HHHOT..!!”.

Aug 29, 2010

I learnt Indian history from the Dutch today!

Dutch East India Company. As this bug bites me more and more every day, I finally ended up travelling to The Hague where the Dutch National Archives is located, which is the treasure house of all the antique VOC records! 

As I entered the building, I felt like setting foot on a venture of a lifetime (like boarding the Titanic! :). I got the 3 historical documents that I had requested for. These were HUGE books, with sizes of around 1 feet x 1.5 feet,and weighing almost 4 KGs each! These were the travel journals prepared by Dutch east India company in circa 1672 (yes, almost 340 year-old books!!). Such a journal was published almost each time when a VOC ship sailed back to Holland. The books I read, had precise details on Dutch occupation in India, with detailed maps of the cities and towns, the culture of the inhabitants, their food habits, the vegetation, etc. etc. It was just mind blowing to see several maps of my birthplace, the port town of Tuticorin (had been spelt as Tute Coryn). [image credits: Nationaal ArchiefOne of the maps shows intricate details of pearl fishermen (Paravas community) displaying oysters in the market, fished from the sea, while some Dutch men stand by. It also shows a VOC ship supervising the fishing activities. Sea farers diving into the sea for pearl fishing can also be seen- and much more intricate details that today’s Tuticoriners would not even know that these existed here! 

Well, Tuticorin is just one place where the VOC had a trading post. I also saw several maps, and records of Masulipatnam (Machilipatnam), Pulicat (Pazhaverkadu), Negapatnam (Nagapattinam), Cotchin (Cochin), Covelang (Kovalam), and many more places. And remember, today’s India was not the only country under the VOC. Cities like New Amsterdam (New York city), Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town), Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia) were too!

Here’s a VOC map of port town Tutecoryn (1672) and a Google map of today’s Tuticorin city (2010). I still like the VOC map of Tutecoryn much more, with its beautifully illustrative and intricate details! 

View Larger Map

Well, we must not forget the most important thing here- 400 years ago, our place’s map had been drawn by a European company, and today, our place’s map is being created by an American company. 
What are WE doing????? It’s heart-breaking indeed.

Aug 26, 2010

Dead Dutch men and My VOC coins?

As I just wake up from a long slumber of 3 years, there are many intriguing events happening in my life these days, motivating me to write more. During the day when I purchased VOC coins from the old coins shop, I wondered about the source of those coins. When I asked the staff, he said, those coins were from Indonesia (former Dutch East Indies). He added, “These coins had been kept on the eyes of the dead Dutchmen when they were buried in the graveyard. Now that renovations are happening in modern day Indonesia, these graveyards are being dug out and demolished, and that's how we get these coins”. This was certainly exciting to listen, but was a little creepy too..

More research on this makes things even more interesting. In pre-Christian times, coins were used to be placed with the dead, as payment for Charon, the boatman of the Underworld, who ferried souls across the river Styx to the land of the dead.  And those who could not pay the fee had to wander the shores for a hundred years. So, this should have been practiced by the Dutch too. But, wait, why do Indians follow this tradition?! (I refrain myself from posting an Indian corpse with a coin on the forehead for obvious reasons. It’s very creepy already!) Did European colonialists bring this tradition to India? Or do Greek and Indian mythologies share ideas?

Well, other things apart, the most touching event is that after telling all this story to my dad, he was concerned about the origin of the coin, and advised me to smear some holy ash on it (to ward off any evil!). A doctor of his calibre cannot be superstitious. But his advice was on concern and care for his beloved son! 

Aug 24, 2010

1730 AD Dutch East India coins in Netherlands!

It feels as if it’s been a million years since I blogged. What’s the reason for me to blog again, after 3 long years? Because this day seemed to be a revamp of my coin-collection hobby as a kid!
Though my plan was to buy something else in the market, I inadvertently ran into an old coins shop at Rotterdam (Netherlands). I’ve always loved unearthing an old artifact - painting it in color - trying to bring it into real - and running it vividly in my multi-dimensional exotic mind of imaginative, simulated environment (yeah, it’s a sentence full of metaphors). As I was peeking at the window of this shop- the antique coins yanked me into the shop. I knew definitely that nothing would be affordable inside, but still the pull force was heavy and I yielded to it. I enquired if they have any Dutch East India Company (VOC) coins. (For people for whom Dutch East Indies doesn’t paint a colorful picture on your mind once you hear it, and for the people who think- WTH is that, click over the link). I was brought 5 beautiful teeny VOC coins each minted in circa 1730. I was beaming (automatically). I enquired the price (just for formality, and to cover up the blatant fact that I was just window-shopping). He said it was €350 each. It was expected. But I just enquired if there was any VOC artifact that is of a later period, with a lesser price tag. But there was nothing. I just tried confirming the price again- then I got to understand that it was actually €3 and 50 cents each!!! I was filled with shock and ecstasy. It’s the feeling one may get when he sees his love-proposal get a positive nod, back from his girl! Filled with joy, I picked ‘em all with my two hands and said “You are mine!”. Bought them, and came back home. 

            Well, how did I happen to get them for so less, though being real ones? Is it because I bought them in Netherlands? Or is that because MY OWN legacy is coming back to me?! (Well, enough of imagination, Mr. Hemanth van Tutecorijn!) But of course, this is an awesome start to my research on Dutch East Indies’ occupation in Tuticorin (my birth place) from 1658 to 1825!
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