Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Missionary's footprints

In search of India’s first printing press in Tranquebar, a former Danish colony and now a quiet town
A January noon in Tranquebar, a town on Tamil Nadu’s Coromandel coast, is pleasant. And we’ve reassured ourselves that gulping in lungfuls of this cool air will do us good, for Tranquebar is one of the world’s most ozone-rich places.

It has other equally unusual attractions that intrigue Srilata and me. K Srilata, novelist and academician, is in Tranquebar—officially Tharangambadi, ‘place of singing waves’—to research a novel. I am here because I’d read that Tranquebar was once a Danish settlement. What were the Danes doing in India? In 1620, having travelled all the way from Denmark to Sri Lanka to establish a colony—and subsequently discovering that Sri Lanka had no more room—the Danes came here. A treaty with the local ruler resulted in the setting up of a fort, which still stands, though the Danes relinquished control of Tranquebar in 1845 to the British.

Here we are, therefore, on the seashore of a town so ridiculously tiny it doesn’t even have an idli stall. We begin by visiting the Dansborg, the 17th century fort built by the Danish naval captain Ove Gjedde in 1620. It’s a pale yellow building and looks more like a large bungalow than a fort. But it’s deliciously colonial, and houses a museum with a modest collection of artefacts—from a whale’s backbone to tiny cannonballs.

Full report here Indian Express

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