This is about a German warship that bombed Madras in 1914, and how this event got into the Tamil language. It’s also about how military airplanes used to land on Red Road in front of the Ochterlony Monument in Kolkata during the WW II.
On 22 September, 1914, the German light cruiser, the SMS Emden, quietly approached the city of Madras. As her captain, Karl von Müller later wrote, “I had this shelling in view simply as a demonstration to arouse interest among the Indian population, to disturb English commerce, to diminish English prestige.” After entering the Madras harbour area, Müller illuminated six large oil tanks belonging to the Burmah Oil Company with his searchlights, then fired at a range of 3,000 yards. After ten minutes of firing, Emden had hit five of the tanks and destroyed 346,000 gallons of fuel, and the cruiser then successfully retreated. You can read the details here, here and here.
The Emden was a beautiful ship, so much so that even the British called it the Swan of the East.
Capt. von Müller is a fascinating character – he was quite upset that the shelling at Madras had killed 5 civilians, and he refused to cash in on his exploits by writing a book or going on lecture tours; he did not want to cash in on the blood of his comrades.
The exploits of the Emden got into the normal lingo of Sinhala Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, or so I’m told. A Telugu speaker tells me that “emden la undi” means something is “wow!”, really get-go stuff.
Wikipedia tells us that “Emden’s name, as ‘Amdan’, entered the Sinhala and Tamil languages meaning ‘someone who is tough, manipulative and crafty.’ In the Malayalam language the word ‘Emadan’ means ‘a big and powerful thing’ or ‘as big as Emden’.” According to the Hindu, ‘emden’ in Tamil means ‘streetsmart’.
A fascinating legacy for a few minutes of flexing muscles in Chennai!
The famous Red Road in Calcutta “was originally used as landing and take off airstrip for uk raf bases during WW2. British Fighter planes used to takeoff and land regularly during worldwar 2. Airplanes of world war two, needed regular maintenance, and this airstrip at Calcutta was strategically located near the Calcutta port, which ensured supplies of spares by ship for repair and maintenance of aircraft of ww2.”
The above text is taken from here. The same link takes you to a rare film showing a plane landing on Red Road, with the Monument in the foreground.