Friday 24 December 2021


Merry Christmas to one and all of my readers!

A Christmas season anywhere in the world is not complete without at least a cake these days. Whether it is in the Americas ,Canada or Europe, Africa, Far East or Australia it is the same. Even in non Christian countries or secular countries where Christianity is comparatively a small community like India -with less than just 3 % of population- a Christmas without a cake is unthinkable for the last many decades. In Japan where Christians are limited to less than 1 %, bakers are busy with their trade mark  Christmas cakes during the festive month. I am sure that hardly few know that the only shortcake emoji exhibited in our smartphone emoji selection is a Japanese Christmas cake with a strawberry on the top! You can check that in your phone whether it uses Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung or any other known technology...

In fact it also may be interesting to know  that the first Indian who baked a Christmas cake in India was not a Christian but a Hindu by faith! In Kerala state where I live where Hindus, Christians and Muslims live together cordially, may be due to the influence of commercial practices of traders, a cake has become very popular among all communities. One Mampally Bapu , owner of Royal Biscuit company baked the first cake at Thalasseri, Kerala in 1880.

A cake has nothing to do with Jesus Christ or basic beliefs of Christianity. It is believed to have started much later in Britain in the 16th century based on traditional food there rather than with any church in the world. Thereafter it caught up with the rest of Europe and the world.

Please read on ...A cakewalk on this Christmas day!!

First day of each December while in Qatar...Thanks to Mr. Sherida Al Kaabi..
While in Qatar in spite of my busy official schedule even on Christmas days, I used to remember about Christmas  sharp on every first day of every December for many decades! Definitely it was not because of any religious reasons. In a country like Qatar where Christmas was not celebrated in public much in those years of 1980s and 90s, strange for many reasons, I used to see the Chairman of the company where I was  working ,signing on a number of Christmas cards to be posted to his Christian friends all over the world! That was sure to happen if he was available in the country on first of every December. Of course those were pre internet days. He also used to scribble down one or two sentences on the card to make them more personal. No wonder he had been a very professional and successful Ambassador for his country representing in India, Egypt ,UK and Scandinavian countries for many years. 

Now also he seems to continue the same habit since it is only two weeks ago that my wife and I got one of such cards from him. Time has changed that we got into that list but admire his ability to share and maintain the warmth of relationships for decades with others. Still he uses the good old system of printed Christmas cards in spite of the fact that he is a computer literate. I think his silent but noble action is the best Christmas message one can give to this day- keep the warmth and love with all, irrespective whether they are useful to him or not in life any more!!That's Mr. Sherida Al Kaabi!! And this is only one of the many characteristics of Mr. Al Kaabi which I try to emulate. An Arab influencing me, an Indian was the last thing in my life I expected !!

How the first Christmas cake was born?
The evolution of Christmas cake began with plum porridge which was  an English tradition for dinner. On Christmas eve people over there started having oats porridge after fasting. Soon dried fruit, honey and spices were added to porridge mix which eventually turned into Christmas pudding!

By 16th century oat meal was removed and instead wheat flour , butter, spices and eggs were added. It became the first version of Christmas boiled plum cake. Later the rich started baking the cake. By 1830s eating a traditional plum cake on Christmas day became a practice in Britain and caught up with the rest of the world. 

The most popular types of Christmas cakes in the western world..
Here it is not my intention to give the recipes of various Christmas cakes in the world and bore you. But it could be interesting to know that different types of such cakes remain popular by different names  in different countries.

While the traditional plum cake remains in many countries, in Germany it is Christollen, in Poland it is Makowiec, in Italy it is Panettone and in Portugal it is Bolo Rei. In France , Belgium, Switzerland and Lebanon it is Yule log cake (Buche de Noel).This reminds me that in Qatar most of the patisseries and bakeries are run by the Lebanese and during Christmas season how the Yule log cakes are exhibited in the shelves there more than traditional plum cakes!

And in  Japan....Emoji cake!

Christmas cake is very dominant in Japanese culture regardless of the fact that the % of Christians in the country is less than 1% of the population. It is sold in every other corner during the festive season right from November! The Japanese Christmas cake is unique- a light sponge cake covered with white cream and decorated with fresh strawberries. The Japanese liking for a Christmas cake started after the second world war devastation. There were a lot of Americans helping out Japan in the resurrection. And the poor Japanese those days were attracted towards the rich traditions of US! The Christmas eve in Japan is like Valentines day in the west. Would you be my 'Christmas' this year they ask each other instead of 'valentine' in Japan!

And the only cake emoji in our smartphones we use is Japanese Christmas cake! It is observed that the color scheme-white and red- of the cake represents the Japanese flag. Red strawberry for the sun while white of cream represents the background in Japanese flag! And why this particular cake in Emoji ? Because Emoji originated in Japan in 1999 created by a Japanese artist named Shigetaka Kurita which was patented. Emoji means 'Picture illustration' in Japanese language and he created the same for his employer firm NTT Docomo initially, but used by all.

First Indian made Christmas cake...
The  Christmas cake in India can be traced back to 1880.Mampally Bapu was a Keralite business man who used to ship bread, milk and tea to British troops stationed in Egypt. On his return to Kerala he started a bakery because he had learnt the art of baking biscuits while abroad mainly in Burma. His bakery was named as Royal Biscuit Factory at Thalassery, Kerala.

One day one Englishman named Murdoch Brown, a planter of estates brought him a cake which he had purchased while in England. He was requested to make a similar cake in his bakery. With the tasting and narration of such a cake from Murdoch , Bapu could bake a similar cake with dried fruits and other ingredients. That was in November 1883.

           Mambally Bapu presenting the first Indian made plum cake to Murdoch Brown in 1883.

Another cake known as Allahabadi Christmas cake also is well known in India for the last many decades. It has origins from Anglo Indian kitchens of Allahabad railways colony. Goa's Baath cake is a delicacy there during Christmas which has Portuguese origin. Vivikam is a traditional Christmas cake of Pondicherry which was ruled by the French. Mandas of Mangalore is traditional Christmas cake  among the Anglo Indians. So also Cochin Jews and Parsees  have their own cakes in the season. 

"You can't have your cake and eat it too" is an English idiomatic proverb, as we all know. Perhaps the only exception is a Christmas cake! Once again a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!!

Wednesday 1 December 2021


While all educated Indians are fully aware of the rule, rather misrule of the British in India during the colonial years, I don't think that the same awareness is there about that of Portuguese' in India. I used to wonder why Indians and others are not fully focused on the atrocities meted out by the later during their 451 years of colonial rule than 200 years of British in India. Is it because the Portuguese were treating Indians better than the British? Or is it because while the British could directly or indirectly rule almost all India while the Portuguese were ruling only few pockets? These doubtful thoughts were always there in me but could do research on these only after I came back to India. 

It doesn't amuse me when most of the Indians- knowingly or unknowingly- celebrate our past slavery and looting by the British colonists. Or the way the personal affairs of their royal family is publicized in our media even now! Recently the mostly read Malayalam newspaper(in my mother tongue)  had written in detail in their internet edition titled as headline 'Operation London Bridge is ready" about the steps the British would do in case, Queen Elizabeth who is ailing from old age related diseases at her 96 demises....Thankfully she is still live. Winston Churchill  hated India to hilt- and expressed it openly- in spite his country was mostly depending on the loot from there to remain as a wealthy world power! He openly had said that "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion...". Most of the Indians still think he is great...mostly by ignorance ,if I am not wrong. 

When I finally focused and read about the Portuguese colonization of India, its implications on Indians it gave me shock initially. After making sure of the happenings from various reliable sources including available Portuguese chronicles in English- many back up documents the Portuguese have cleverly destroyed-I am here to share them. I didn't know that  Vasco da Gama was known for a personality as violent, rude and relentless to start with! I didn't know that there is an epic classic poem revered in Portugal by all to this day titled 'The Lusaids'.It was written by Luis Vaz de Camoes in 1572 in celebration of the new sea route to India founded by da Gama! But their celebration was more than agony for India from 1510 to 1961 until Goa, Daman and Diu their pockets in India were liberated after 451 years of colonization! Even at that time all the western so called 'self champions of freedom and democracy'  including US, France, Britain and co were all supporting Portugal, opposing India openly in UN and elsewhere! It seems they sincerely believed that India was created to be mastered by them for ever!!

I have used the word 'unbeknownst' in the title intentionally meaning 'without someone's knowledge' which is more apt than just 'unknown'!! Hardly publicized  episodes of the erstwhile  ' Portuguese India'!

                                                    Vasco Da Gama meets Zamorin in globalization? 
Motivations were three G s....God, Gold and Glory! 
It is said that the kings/Queens of Europe who funded such expeditions and the brave who captained all exploration trips were after three G s - God, Gold and Glory! And the Portuguese was not an exception. The usufructs, the benefits or profits so generated were always divided between them based on a pre trip agreement- mostly on percentage basis!
Though not in the correct sense of it, the Portuguese started globalization in the world in the 14th century. It was them who were the first European power to engage with other Europeans, Africans, Asians and Americans! It was smart of  King Manual I of Portugal who  sincerely believed that explorations to find new lands and sources of spices which were popular in Europe, can boost the poor economy of the country. Finding a new sea route to India and Indies was so intended to overcome the influence of Venetians in Mediterranean Sea and those of Ottomans and Mamluks of Egypt over Indian Ocean. Until then the Muslim middlemen who traded the Indian  spices to Europeans were charging hefty commissions claiming that the same was brought from far off lands guarded by serpents and devils as well. It was also hoped to find new Christians living in those parts of the globe so that more effective joint opposition could be made against the ever growing control of Muslims and Arabs over trade and power. And  to avoid robbers who always waited to ambush the land caravans.

The journey starts... 
Vasco da Gama belonged to a family of explorers. His father and maternal uncles -Vincente and Bras Sodre- and brothers were known to be in that category. It was Estevo da Gama, father of Vasco da Gama, a minor provincial nobleman  who was assigned with the trip but for some unknown reasons it was delayed and the duty was entrusted to young da Gama by the king. 

With 4 ships and 170 men including a catholic priest named Fr. Figueiro and interpreters,  da Gama commenced the journey from Lisbon on July 8,1497.He followed the same ship route without out losing sight of the main land which was discovered by another Portuguese explorer named Bartolomeo Diaz few years prior till the Cape of Good Hope, rounded the tip of Africa to reach Malindi, Kenya.

It was an  Indian who navigated da Gama from Africa to India!
Da Gama knew that he had to sail across the Indian Ocean from Malindi to Calicut which was really tricky those days. There it is believed that da Gama befriended a rich Gujarati merchant from India named Kanji Malam who escorted him in his own ship  to the shores of India! The identity of such a guide is also claimed to be one Ibn Majid, an Arab of descent by many Arab historians. But it is unlikely since the Arabs were already on loggerheads with Portuguese! I wonder why Indian history texts remain mostly silent of such a person all these years albeit many foreign chronicles like Encyclopedia Britannica writes about it authoritatively. Even the Portuguese chronicles mentions the help of such a person who had large fleet of ships bigger than what Portugal had! I wonder why I had not studied this factor anywhere in my school textbooks! And that could be more intentional than passive,I am afraid.

Ahoy Calicut! Land of 'Prester John'!
As da Gama landed at Calicut on 20 May 1498 taking 23 days from Malindi , he was under the impression that the local king- Zamorin and inhabitants of the town were Christians! Europeans were of the belief that there was a king named Prester John somewhere in Africa or Asia. For this reason da Gama was carrying a letter addressed to him by King Manuel I of Portugal while he met the Zamorin. He was given a warm welcome and reception by sending a palanquin and the people thronged on the sides of the road and roof tops leading to the palace as he travelled. It could be interesting to quote the first hand early thoughts of da Gama as I have read from one of his companion's diary." They are of tawny complexion. Men wear moustaches, go half naked to the waist covering the lower part with fine cotton stuff. Not all, but all seem to wear the best they have." " The women are ugly and of small stature. They wear a lot of gold ornaments ". He also thought that all the people were friendly but seemed ignorant!!Being polite, guest friendly and a warm reception with wide open arms including a royal ride in a palanquin for the first time carried by our Indians for miles, might have made him to think so, I presume!

Anyway the meeting with the Zamorin who was 'constantly chewing leaves of betel-nut' did not take off well especially because the quality of presents da Gama presented to him were not of gold but of lesser value! And already he had an influence of Arab merchants who were taking all the spices from his port which was unexpected by da Gama.

The return trip to Lisbon...
Apart from the fact that Vasco da Gama had to leave India empty handed without entering into any sort of trade agreement, he had to face an unexpected situation where a lot of his crew died of the disease scurvy. His own brother Paulo who steered one of the ships was one among them. He had to order to burn down one of his ships too because of shortage of enough competent men. Finally he reached the shores of Portugal with only 54 men in a dejected mood.

But the King of Portugal had ordered for a grand reception and celebration. He knew that his battle to monopolize the trade route to India out beating rivals such as  Spain, Britain, Dutch and others was over. He knew that the West is connected to the East by sea for sure and further the lands of Ceylon, Indonesia, China and Japan!!

Further expeditions of Cabral and da Gama of Portugal.

In 1500 Pedro Alvres Cabral with his 13 ships and 1200 men set sail for India. One of his ships was captained by none other than Bartholomew Dias of 'Cape of Good Hope' fame. The wind in the Atlantic Ocean accidentally took him to present day Brazil in South America. He is credited with finding of Brazil. Leaving behind few convicted criminals who were taken with him in the armada, after few days Cabral successfully sailed back across the Atlantic to round the Cape of Good Hope and reached Calicut on the west coast of India. He had lost few ships and captains including Bartholomew Dias in between in storm!

He reached Calicut on 13 September 1500 and tried for a trade treaty with the king which was resisted by the Arabs. Cabral then demanded the king to banish all Muslims from his kingdom which the king refused. Enmity between both came out. Arab traders killed 50 Portuguese men and Cabral retaliated capturing 10 of Arab ships!! Cabral then moved to Cannanore and later to Cochin where the kings were in bad terms with Zamorin. They welcomed the Portuguese and allowed trading facilities at Cochin. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'- their new relationship flourished well. Cabral could return to Lisbon successfully with his ships loaded with spices of Malabar. He could  get permission of the king at Cochin to leave 30  Portuguese sailors-thankfully not convicted criminals- behind, when his ships sailed off! European domination and ultimate colonization of India for the next 447 years had kick started!!

It was the turn of Vasco da Gama to make the next rip to India in 1502, his second and third of Portugal. He wanted to show the Arabs who had been opposing them to have a trade with India the might of Portugal! With 20 ships in his command da Gama captured many Arab ships on the way. He stopped a ship full of Muslim pilgrims who were on the way from Calicut to Mecca. It is recorded that da Gama was merciless to the extent that he looted the ship and killed all the 400 passengers and crew on that ship!! As he reached Calicut on October 30,1502 he came to take revenge on the treatment of Zamorin and Arabs on his predecessor Cabral. He bombarded the port of Calicut and destroyed it considerably. It is also recorded that the crew of many rice ships of Zamorin were caught live by  da Gama. He then cut the hands and ears of some of them and send them to Zamorin with a warning note. Zamorin did not yield to the pressure tactics anyway. As such da Gama had to go to Cannanore and Cochin to fill up his ships with the spices before he returned to Portugal!!

           Original burial place of Vasco da Gama at St Francis church, Fort Kochi.

In fact da Gama had made one more trip to India sometime later in 1524.By that time headquarters of Portuguese had been shifted to Goa. Da Gama landed in Goa but couldn't be in India for long. Vasco da Gama died while in Cochin in 1524.To keep the records straight Vasco da Gama had six sons and one daughter. His second son also was in India as a Governor in 1540.His body was cremated in a church at Cochin which is close to my  residence but later the remains were taken to Portugal.

                                     TO BE CONTINUED IN NEXT AS PART II....


Writing about the end of own life, that too after knowing that it could happen any time is hard to write for anyone. I am not an exception. ...