Articles in DNA Newspaper

I write a column for DNA Newspaper which is based out of Mumbai. Through these, I try to present a view of history not usually covered in school textbooks, hence the name #Alternate Histories. Short essays about little known facts spanning the length and breadth of both space and time.

Please follow these links for the original articles as they appear on the DNA website. Each article is 800 words long. Happy reading

1. Lachit Barphukan

Do you know that Assam also produced a very brave general by the name of Lachit Borphukan? He fought against the Mughals at the same time as Chhatrapati Shivaji!

Let’s learn a bit more about this forgotten warrior.


2. Bhor Ghat – Battlefield under a railway line

“This is all so exhilarating. And it happened right around here. I feel proud. Unfortunate that I have never heard of this great victory over the British”


3. Assam’s role in 1857

The old soldier, wearing a worn-out sepoy uniform, let out a puff of smoke. He wanted to talk about his inspiration – Maniram Dewan.


4. Chhatrapati Shivaji – the mighty strategist

“This place is a turning point for India’s history” he remarked to his friend Rakesh.


5. Alternate history – There are two sides to the same coin

But the way our current narrative is contructed, we tend to give undue importance to defeat and ignore victory — which is detrimental as a whole


6. Chimaji Appa’s defeat of the Portuguese

The victorious Vasai campaign led by the brother of Peshwa Bajirao against a formidable colonial force was a watershed

7. Defeat of the 8th century Arab invasion

For three centuries from 712 AD to 1001 AD, Indian kings kept Arab invaders at bay !


8. The Curious case of Jodhpur

How Sardar Patel tore up Jinnah’s “blank cheque” and averted Jodhpur’s possible merger with Pakistan


9. A plan to invade Bengal

The great Ahom king Rudra Singha had mobilised 4 lakh soldiers to invade Mughal-ruled Bengal, but his untimely death at Guwahati stalled the campaign


10. Sayajirao Gaekwad III – Maker of Modern Baroda

Sayajirao ushered in progressive reforms and modern amenities and towered over the other princes loyal to the British Raj.

11. The Forgotten King – Hemchandra Vikramaditya

Hemu, the last Hindu ruler of Delhi, has left behind a legacy of courage in the face of overwhelming odds

Chilarai or Sukhladhwaj was the Senapati of the kingdom of Koch Behar. He led his armies to many triumphs ; gave protection to Shankardeva , rebuilt Kamakhya temple.
The unknown warrior – king from Odisha , who thwarted multiple enemies to build an empire stretching from Ganges to Kaveri.

15.European Travellers in Medieval India

people from a host of European countries, including Italy, made their way to India in the middle ages.

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Gingee fort & Chhatrapati Shivaji

This place is merely 80 km from Pondicherry but is as important to Maratha, nay the nation’s history, as the forts of Rajgad, Panhala or Raigad!

Let us see how tea began it’s journey in the jungles of Assam as a wild plant plucked by a tribe for it’s aroma , and grew into a cash crop involving plantations of hundreds of acres!
….. And thus ended the last battle linked to the American Revolution — halfway around the globe
Errata : Zorawar Singh was a Hindu Dogra.
And along with her had come a substantial dowry – a hefty sum of money and the ports of Tangiers in Morocco and Bombay in India, at the time consisting of seven separate islands all under Portuguese control.
There has always been a section of people who have tried to portray Chhatrapati Shivaji in a negative light by referring to his loot of Surat. An article to clear the air.


22. Pinnacles of Maratha attack

Just after the martyrdom of Chhatrapati Sambhaji , Santaji Ghorpade led a daring attack on Aurangzeb’s own camp !


23. The Peshwa’s private zoo !

For the entertainment of the young Peshwa, a menagerie — a collection of birds and animals — had been set up in the jungles near Parvati. It housed a large collection of fauna — tigers, lions, a lynx and even a rhino!


24. The Katraj Aquaduct

Dams were built on the Ambhil stream around 7 km south of Shaniwarwada at Katraj, creating two ponds — upper one for settling silt and the lower for water storage.


25. Durgadas Rathod – Embodiment of valour

The brave Rajput battled Aurangzeb against all odds.


26. Local histories and their unique charm

The history of your own town or city is an interesting and oft unexplored avenue !


27. A million histories

History syllabus should look beyond the political and peer into the histories of cities , sports , food , industry etc to make it more engaging.

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28. Defying the British to win the right to sail !

The fact was that the British administration had over decades caused as many as 102 Indian shipping companies to shut down!


29. Why the British built the Great Hedge of India

A traveller in India in the 1870s would have come across a strange problem. He couldn’t walk from the western parts of India to the east in the Terai region without encountering an enormous hedge made of babool, prickly pear, karanda and other shrubs!


30. Barrackpore , 1824

Has there been a typo in the title? Isn’t Barrackpore associated with the year 1857 and not 1824? But there was indeed an uprising in the same Barrackpore cantonment thirty years prior to the events of 1857 !

31. Aurangzeb v/s the East India Company

he arguments over the duties and trade tariffs had brought the East India Company to the view that their salvation lay in building forts and fortified enclaves in India. It was the first germ of an idea aimed at controlling land in India. Around this time, there was an altercation among the Mughal and the British troops at Hughli, lighting the spark for war.

32. HMS Minden – American anthem on an India built ship !

The HMS Minden was built at Mumbai , India. A quirk of fate would make it the ship on which the (future) National Anthem of the USA was composed !

Errata : 1. Bombay Docks have a history predating 1735.

2. The Wadias were employees , not working on contract.

3. Waterloo was in 1815, not 1814.

The errors are regretted . Also , heartfelt thanks to Comdr Mohan Narayan of the MHS , Mumbai for pointing out these errors.


33. Aurangzeb and the Siege of Ramsej

Ramsej thus set a pattern for the Maratha-Mughal war. It is interesting to note, that between two forts, Ramsej near Nashik and Gingee in Tamil Nadu, a staggering fourteen years of the war had been used up. Six in finally getting hold of Ramsej and eight in that far away fort in the south.


34. Bombay – Poona road : Story of a highway !

Connectivity between the two cities has a long and interesting history. A history involving war, Wellesley, metalled roads, palanquins and stage coaches!

35. Pune’s Kotwal System

The Poona Kotwali was established in the year 1765. Balaji Narayan Ketkar was the first ‘Chief Kotwal’ (Commissioner of Police in modern language). He reported directly to the Peshwa..


36. SS Enterprise – First steamship to India

Many of you must have read about the first train in India — the famous 1853 run from Boribunder to Thane. It heralded a new dawn for communications, industry and transport in India. An equally important event happened 30 years prior to that, in 1825 in Calcutta. The first trans-ocean steamship reached India: The SS Enterprise.

37. India Post’s expensive Palkhi service

It seems quite amusing today to read about how journeys of over a thousand miles were still being done by people sitting in a box carried by four bearers — all this merely a hundred and fifty years ago!

38. Malcolm McLean and the shipping container

You must have seen trucks on the roads, carrying long, corrugated metal boxes called “containers”. In fact, we routinely refer to these as “container trucks”. All these similar looking boxes are the same size and have some numbering on them — like some sort of a barcode. Their simple design, inexpensive construction and standardisation has changed the face of global trade

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