Thursday, January 15, 2015
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
|Calcutta has had a Jewish diaspora since the late-eighteenth century. The first immigrants came from Baghdad, some of whose kin had already moved to cities like Surat and Cochin on the western littoral of South Asia at an earlier date. Eventually more came; from different other parts of Eurasia, including Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and Poland. During the nineteenth century, their numbers soared, as the Jews of Central Calcutta emerged as a prosperous business community. After the creation of Israel in 1948, numbers started dwindling, and over the years, younger members of the community migrated for greener pastures to different parts of the first world. With its numbers reduced to around two dozens at present, the rich Jewish past of the city is now survived by a cemetery, three beautiful synagogues, two schools, the fond nostalgia of the much-lived bakery Nahoum & Sons. and toponymy of the likes of Ezra Mansion, Ezra Street, Belilios Street and Synagogue Street.|
Jael Silliman, who herself emerged from this community, has put together a truly wonderful digital archive that documents the lives of the Calcutta Jews. It features numerous photographs, interviews of senior Jewish residents of the city, documentaries, pictures of material objects, posters and so on. Below is a selection of Jewish family photographs from this digital archive, intended on the one hand to help us look back at the diasporic world of the Jews of Calcutta, while on the other they show us a snippet of the extremely rich archival material collected and digitised by Jael Silliman. Here is the link to her website: www.jewishcalcutta.in
PS: Here are the links to two recent features on the Jewish community of the city:
Of Matzoh and Mothballs: The Disappearing Jews of Kolkata
Only 27 Remain, but Jews Love Kolkata
|Isaac Jonah with grandsons Sassoon, Alec (seated) and Meyer|
|Nissim Luddy & Seemah Arakie|
|Emma Arakie, Seemah Arakie Luddy (with unknown person)|
|Jacob Jonah family portrait|
|Rachel Luddy, Sam, Ramoo, Sally|
|Jonah Isaac with wife Tova and son Ephraim|
|Joe Curlender at home in Park Street with Robin & Ilana|
|Moshe (Moses) Mizrahi and sister Flora in 1946, Dalhousie Square|
|Isaac Jonah with Alec (right), Eric (left)|
|Moshe (Moses) Mizrahi in June, 1950, Botanical Gardens|
In the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, British painters vigorously painted the new Oriental colonial possessions of their country. Thomas Daniel and others traversed the length and breadth of the land to put down on paper what they saw before their eyes. Calcutta, the headquarters of the nascent colonial empire in the east, attracted particular attention of these painters. These paintings, in their vivid details, not only lets us take a glimpse at a bygone Calcutta through their eyes, but through way certain places, people and objects that found their way into these paintings, one can also note a thing or two about how these painters thought about and looked at the cityscape.
The collection of R. Jacob Esquire features several paintings from this period. The link to the collection is here.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
In the mid-1940s, Calcutta swarmed with American G.I.s, on duty on the eastern front against a possible Japanese invasion. For most of these soldiers, the city -- with its imperious colonial architecture, the simultaneity of splendour and poverty, and seemingly strange lifestyle and practices of the 'natives' -- was a exotic wonder. Many of them found it worthwhile to take back visual memories of their stay and went around the city taking pictures of whatever they found curious. One such collection of sixty black-and-white photographs, taken by one Clyde Waddell, has come down to us in good condition and is preserved presently in several American libraries. Each photograph comes with a caption, put down by Waddell himself. Apart from giving us a glimpse of the bygone city through the lens of a military photographer, these accompanying captions also tell us something about how the American soldiers perceived and thought about the city and its people.
Aerial view of Calcutta downtown. In upper left background is Hindustan building, U.S. Army HQ. The oldest part of the city starts at the esplanade and extends upwards. The city was founded in the early 1700's.
Chowringhee Square. The Mohammddan mosque, Juma Masjid, is shown at left. This is actually one of the quiet moments when GI trucks, taxis, bicycles and other modes of transport can move with comparative freedom.
Indicative of the resumption of an age-old struggle for decent conditions is this immediate post-war picture of tram-workers on strike. The strike lasted nine days but employees won par of their demands.
These Sikh lads have chosen an auspicious stand for their business of selling 'precious' stone to GI's. No more than 12 years old, these boys are shrewd and 'malum' English well enough to trim a sucker every time.
This cocoanut market on Cornwallis street is a sample of the haphazard way in which many basars are operated. The popular pauses for refreshment is indulged by Indian in central foreground drinking cocoanut milk.
Calcutta's poor from a line to buy kerosene at 6 a.m. Each little cubicle may contain a shop and living quarters for a family ranging possibly from 6 to 12. Sanitary facilities consist of an open street drain.
In a different post, we have already seen how the American military establishment decided to equip their soldiers who were to be posted in Calcutta with some sort of a guide book to launch them in the foreign land. These photographs, taken by one such soldier once he landed up in Calcutta, completes this circle. It tells us how, equipped with this guide book, he explored his way across the length and breadth of the city. In the process, he ended up creating a wonderful visual and textual archive for posterity.
Here is the link to the complete album, which has all the sixty photographs: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128454966@N03/sets/72157648511448715/
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
[The following photo-essay of the ongoing Jadavpur University student movement by Ronny Sen was originally published in bbc.com. This is a repost. For the original, see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-29322789]
Students at Calcutta's Jadavpur University have been protesting for the past fortnight at the sexual assault of a female student. A government-appointed panel has begun an inquiry, but the students, upset over the universities' decision to call in police against the protesters last week, say that is not enough.
Photographer Ronny Sen went to find out why they are so angry.Parnab Das
What began as anger over last month's assault has snowballed into fury over the authorities' response. Protests have also spilled outside the university campus, and at the weekend up to 25,000 people marched through Calcutta's streets. Parnab Das is doing a masters course in comparative literature. "I am also teaching in a school and I plan to leave my job so that I can give my full time to this movement," he says.Supratik Sur Roy
Last Tuesday night, the situation came to a head when university vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakraborty called in police to quell a protest on the campus. Mr Chakraborty says he called in the police because he was under siege and had to be rescued. Dozens of students were injured and admitted to hospital. Supratik Sur Roy, a student of film studies, says it was "completely unacceptable" to send "commandos and police to beat up students who were protesting peacefully".Upasana Chakraborty
Ms Chakraborty, an undergraduate student of English, says she was present on the night and that police came inside the campus and beat up the students. She has alleged that her boyfriend was severely beaten up and suffered multiple injuries. The students are now demanding that the vice-chancellor resign and Ms Chakraborty says she will not give up protesting until he quits.Prabuddha Ghosh
Mr Ghosh, an MPhil student of comparative literature, says: "I am proud to be a part of this movement. I was not present on the night when police came, but I wish I was there with my friends who were beaten up." The poster behind him, with the war cry Halla bol (Raise your voice), aptly sums up the mood of the protesting students.Sanmit Chaterjee
"We are not only fighting against the vice-chancellor, we are addressing other issues as well. We are fighting against many things like moral policing on campus, which is being forcefully imposed on us", Sanmit Chaterjee says.Rupsa Sarkar
Ms Sarkar, a mass communication and journalism student, says: "I don't think our demand to the vice-chancellor for a proper investigation into the molestation was wrong. What was the reason to bring the police inside the campus? The students were peacefully protesting. We will fight against police brutality and until the vice-chancellor resigns."Devi
Devi is an ex-student who graduated in 2012. But the protests have seen many former students like her return to the university. Along with some other students, she has been painting and making posters which are being put up across the campus.Prantick Das
An ex-student of comparative literature and mass communication, Mr Das says he is here because he feels "very strongly" about the incident. "This could have happened to any one of us. Former students who are in different parts of the world are sending messages with their support and solidarity," he says.