Pratidwandi (1970)

Pratidwandi (1970)
Jayshree Ray fixes her gaze on Central Calcutta in Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jewish Calcutta

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:

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

Ashkenazy family

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

Noah family

Rachel Luddy, Sam, Ramoo, Sally

Jonah Isaac with wife Tova and son Ephraim

Mingail family

Sales family

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)

Floris Moses

Moshe (Moses) Mizrahi in June, 1950, Botanical Gardens

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