Rani Velu Nachiyar was the Tamil queen who led an army of women against the East India Company.
Must Watch: Would you live on 3D Printed Mars for a year for $60,000?
“She will be amongst the best French speakers of the land, my lord.”
The confidence in Jose de Pray’s voice was in stark contrast to his lean frame. The frailty of his body betrayed the sufferings he had endured during strenuous journeys through hostile territories, but his voice still maintained its gravitas. The arduous passage from Puducherry to Ramanathapuram had soiled his white robe. A man of limited monetary means, de Pray had no choice but to present himself in a rather shabby manner to his potential employer. Nonetheless, his reputation as a Jesuit priest held him in good stead and commanded the attention of Raghunatha Sethupathi, the ruler of Ramanathapuram.
The king of Ramanathapuram echoed de Pray’s comments and made his intentions clear. “I expect no less. The princess of Ramanathapuram, the scion of the Sethupathi clan, my daughter Velu Nachiyar will grow to become the best French speaker in the land. Under your tutelage, my Velu should have a firm command over the language. After all, she will have to someday negotiate with the French on trade and commerce.”
Jose de Pray’s eyes glistened in agreement. “And she will be, my lord. The princess, with her exceptional linguistic skills, will surprise even the French in Puducherry.”
Subscribe to GreatGameIndia
Satisfied with de Pray’s conviction, Raghunatha Sethupathi declared, “Good! I hereby appoint you tutor to my daughter. You may begin teaching her on a day recommended by our astrologers. The treasury will pay your wages. You will also be given your own personal lodging in the palace until my daughter’s education is complete. You may leave now.”
Thanking the king, Jose de Pray walked out of the durbar of the Ramanathapuram palace. He was the last person to have been granted audience with the king that evening. As he stepped out onto the open courtyard, de Pray witnessed the native soldiers practise a drill of the ancient martial art known as silambam. As the soldiers swung long bamboo sticks in a coordinated manner, he watched them, fascinated, having set his eyes on the technique for the first time.
Soon, a courtier came by to escort the priest to his new quarters.
Meanwhile, in the durbar, Raghunatha Sethupathi had barely resumed his position on the throne when another courtier entered.
“My lord, the queen requests your presence. She is waiting for you in her quarters.”
Raghunatha Sethupathi was not a man to keep his beloved wife waiting.
Muthathal Nachiyar was finishing up her letters when a young female courtier ushered the king inside. Turning towards him, the queen of Ramanathapuram began, “I hear you have appointed a Frenchman to tutor Velu.”
“Yes, dear. One of the very best.”
Ceri-Anne Fidler, in her doctoral thesis, describes how food was used to oppress Indian sailors on colonial ships.