15th August, 1947: The country carefully listened to Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’, jubilant that the British were finally leaving. But let’s not forget the price we paid to regain what was always ours. Even though we did get rid of the crown, it still has our jewel. India too was a jewel. It was known as the ‘Golden Bird’. But after being grounded for 200 years by the British, could it soar again? More than 58 million died in famines alone, countless freedom fighters laid down their lives & so many innocent souls were forced to face unimaginable horrors, simply on the whims & fancies of the British rulers.

Yes, independence was a huge relief but being conquered was a terror. And how did it all begin? Well… The price of pepper went up by 5 Shillings and our fate was sealed! Confused? Read on as we rummage through the annals of history to bring you this intriguing story.


Back in the 16th century, the Dutch privateers were in control of the spice trade. In September of 1599, they decided to increase the price of pepper by 5 Shillings.


This angered the British merchants. So, on 24th September, 1599, at Leadenhall Street in London, 24 merchants held a meeting and decided to establish a new trading firm.

They roped in 125 shareholders who put together a total currency of 72,000 Pounds, which was used as the initial capital for the company.


Their motive was simple… profit. With that in mind, they moved forward to a future not even they could’ve predicted.

On 31st December, 1599, the firm was given the Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I and the trading company commenced its business.


The company came to be known as The East India Company. And through expansion & transformation, it would ultimately become the most impactful creation of the age of imperialism.


On August 24th, 1600, East India Company docked its ships in Surat. The British had officially arrived in India.

Such was their foothold that the company eventually ruled over India from 1757 to 1857. After the first Indian Rebellion of 1857, the company was dissolved and the crown took control over our lands as they thought that the company alone did not have adequate resources to deal with an uprising.


‘The British Raj’ had officially begun. And it ended only after 9 decades of suffering. The Golden Bird was left battered & bruised.


5 Shillings was the price that led to our country being taken away from us. If the Dutch privateers hadn’t decided on loading their pockets a little more or if the British merchants would’ve just loosened their purse strings a bit, India’s history would’ve read differently.


5 Shillings. Imagine that! A quarrel over such a small amount and an entire country suffered for two whole centuries.

One of the most impactful events in history had such mundane beginnings, who would have thought?

Information in the article has been sourced from the book: Freedom at Midnight (1975) by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

Feature image source: wikipedia

Masthead image source: IBN