Dutch in Pulicat: Forgotten History?

To celebrate 5 years of blogging, I have decided to finally open my blog to guest bloggers. I present below the first guest post on my blog by Destination Infinity, a 31 year old blogger from Chennai (India) who claims to have an opinion on everything and is an expert on nothing! He has been blogging for more than six years @ destinationinfinity.org and has recently written an eBook - 'Happiness Guide for Tourists Visiting India: 50 Exciting Things To Do'.


Pulicat is a small coastal town that is located on the Tamil Nadu - Andhra Pradesh border, around 60 KM north of Chennai. Even people living Chennai might not be aware of this town or might only be familiar with the boating/bird-watching activities, there. But did you know that this almost forgotten town, was once the largest port throughout the Coromandel coast of India, in the 15/16th centuries? At that time, Chennai (Madras) was not even existent! Did you know that the Portuguese, Dutch and the English fought for controlling this port town, which has been in existence from 2nd Century BC? Did you know that this small town was the Dutch Coromandel headquarters for almost a century and they had built a huge fort here? Let's put this town back into the place it deserves, in history.


Pulicat or Pazhaverkadu (as the town is called in Tamil) has a large lake (18% in TN and the rest in AP). The main activity of people today involves catching fishes/crabs, that are sold in other parts of India or exported. But this town was once famous for its textiles. That's how the Dutch became familiar with it - They would exchange spices from South East Asia with cotton textiles manufactured in Pulicat. This town was bustling with activity when the Dutch started to establish themselves here in 1610. But, they were not the first Europeans to set foot on this coastal town, as the Portuguese had already set up their base after having struck an agreement with the Vijayanagara Kings.


The Dutch strengthened their base and after a few wars, they defeated Portuguese and took control of Pulicat. They initially established a factory at Pulicat, but soon they built a large fort (Geldria) and Pulicat became the Dutch headquarters in the Coromandel coast. Many people don't know that the Dutch presence in India lasted well over two centuries (from 1605 to 1825), and the Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) was the largest European trading company in India, before the British East India company. The Dutch even had their own mint in Pulicat and they issued 'Pulicat' Dutch coins, which was used for trading.


The photos you see in this post were taken at the New Dutch Cemetery that was established in 1656 AD. There is an older cemetery where the Dutch, Portuguese and Indians were buried, but that area is largely inaccessible, today. This cemetery is an important piece of history that has survived and even today people from The Netherlands visit this place. It has 77 graves and all of them have stones with inscriptions about the dead, in the Dutch language. Five graves have domes/structures built over them. The entrance, as you can see in the first photograph, is a creatively built gate with skeletons on either side and a skull on the top. The inscriptions on the stones have been done artistically (with designs). The cemetery is now protected by the ASI, but even before that not much damage was done to it. People were afraid of the dead, maybe? :)


What you see in the below photo is an old house (now in ruins) inhabited by a Dutch family, earlier. There are many such houses built by the Dutch, that still survive in Pulicat but many are occupied now. The large container pots you see there were used to store water. Actually, people used to catch rain water in these vessels and insert an hot iron rod into them, in order to purify the water. That way, it seems, the water remains pure for a whole year and it is possible to drink from it!


We were taken on a heritage walk around Pulicat by AARDE Foundation (aarde.in) on the Pulicat Day (January 2013) and these photos were taken during that walk. I should thank the personnel from AARDE for having explained the history of Pulicat so well, and for having taken us around the few surviving monuments. This site is already protected by the ASI and they are trying to get the UNESCO World Heritage Site status to the monuments of Pulicat. Here's wishing them all the very best in their efforts.

Attribution: By Destination8infinity (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Salvation of a Saint - Review

The ‘Devotion of Suspect X’ had already made me a fan of Keigo Higashino. I was really looking forward to his next book and was indeed delighted to receive ‘Salavation of a Saint’ for review. I must say the second book did not disappoint. It turned out to be as intriguing as the first.

Unlike typical whodunit books, Keigo Higashino leaves no doubt on who the criminal is right from chapter one. The suspense revolves around the manner in which the crime was committed.  In the previous book however, most of the time, the reader found himself in the shoes of the criminal and can come to sympathize and even hero worship the criminal. So it is heart breaking when the criminal finally gets caught. This time, on the contrary, the story closely follows the detectives. The detectives from the last book: police inspector Kusanagi and the physics professor Yukawa with their contrasting approach to the case are back again. Yukawa as usual follows his scientific approach while Kusanagai follows the traditional on the field police procedures. We also have a new detective Utsumi bringing  woman’s intuition into the mix. It is all the more interesting since the criminal is a woman, Ayane who has murdered her husband from hundreds of miles away.

In the previous novel, many of the readers may have fallen in love with the criminal.  In this novel however the criminal maintains some a polite distance from the reader. So the reader’s feeling about her would at best be neutral. The lack of infatuation on the part of the reader is compensated by having Kusanagi infatuated with her. So, along with the detection, there is also an interesting emotional drama. Through the course of the investigation, we get to know of the case facts and the back story unravels. The back story is quite engaging and maintains interest.

One of the best aspects of this novel is it feels like a puzzle too be solved all the time. The crime is committed in a rather intriguing manner and the reader is taken through the clues along with the detectives. One thing I liked especially about this book is that the author does not keep critical information hidden and pull a rabbit out of the hat in the end. Instead if the reader is perceptive, he can actually solve the puzzle before the author reveals his hand. But if things become too obvious too early to everyone, then it is no mystery novel at all. That is the fine balance the author has achieved.

If at all any drawbacks have to be pointed out in this book, it is that the overall structure of the story, the flow of events and the important cues feel very familiar to someone who has read his first book. Because of this, it did not have the mind blowing effect the first book had. I don’t know if the author wishes to continue the series. If he has such plans it is going to be a challenge to maintain things unpredictable.  But I feel readers who have not read the previous book will be awed by this. One area where this book scores over the previous one is that it does not have such strong shades of darkness. Though there is murder and sad circumstances that lead to the murder, the book is definitely a happier one.

Overall I found it an interesting and intriguing read. I look forward eagerly to the next novel by this author.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces