Brown of Mahe -The Rascally Adventurer

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Murdoch Brown – The Valia Saheb of Anjarakandy

History enthusiasts and the inhabitants of North Malabar though familiar with this name, may not know much about this Scotsman. Many myths and legends have been connected to his name, and he has been routinely derided as an avaricious colonialist. A detailed study (a first) reveals that he was a hardcore capitalist, the first British landlord of Malabar, a keen botanist, a sharp observer of local culture and laws, and a brash and opportunistic trader, serving only himself. Like spices and provisions, people were also commodities as far as he was concerned and he was a tough slave owner, also supplying Malabar slaves to Mauritius and other French states. He would bend rules, twist arms, and resort to violence, so long as the end benefits were his and only his. Close friends remained friends for life and enemies remained enemies. Always skirting the edges of legal provisions, he changed nationalities and sides as the situation demanded, mastering foreign and several South Indian languages, along the way. To summarize, he was one heck of a man.

Parsee families of Calicut

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Some of the prominent families

In the 19th century and until the 21st, there were several Parsi merchant families resident in Calicut. I had written about them briefly some years ago, but it needed some revisions and improvement.  Raghu Karnad covered them briefly in his lovely book, ‘Farthest Field’, but details the Mugaseth’s, to some extent. So, let’s go back and check on some of the families and their contributions to the colorful cultural fabric of Calicut. Marshall in one of his interviews mentions their influx in the early parts of the 19th century and a number close to 200-300 at its peak. However, one could assume that the Persian merchants mentioned in many travelers’ records well before that could have been the Zoroastrians among or with the Gujaratis. Let's take a look at some of them.