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21 From the Outside In: Recollections of the Jewish Community of Calcutta

Better Homes and Gardens

My best friend was Jewish in school, so we grew up going in and out of her home. I always thought of it as a great fun place to hang out. It was very different from our homes—with a much higher energy, things were easily accepted and they were very chill. There was music flowing and lots of children hanging out. A lot of camaraderie and noise. –Anita (Punjabi Hindu, 1955)

They had a certain standard.  They had beautiful homes. The old fashioned Bengalis were Orthodox but the society we moved in, women of Iranian section, the Anglicized Bengalis moved around with the Jews. Victor Moses and his children were all family friends. We went to everyone’s homes without distinction. –Asoka (Bengali Hindu, 1942)

The Jewish mothers in the homes we went were like the proverbial mother, always welcoming us with love and affection. They stood out and they had a certain pride in what they did. There was never any hopelessness in their attitude to life. Pride in being Jewish and pride in being capable of having a good life. They did not complain, they shared and enjoyed and shared the enjoyment which was a very nice trait…In those days our landlord was Jewish and we would go to their home as he lived below us. The home had a lot of glassware and it was European glass. I remember the green glass and pink glass and orange – dishes and bowls. –Katayun (Parsi, 1938)

I noticed that they had a huge brass top table and I had never seen such a huge table.  They would give me a great time when I visited.Always warm and friendly. –Maureen (Anglo Indian, 1939)

Of my most vivid memories is the Curlender house. The lovely homes of Mayfair from 1 – 11 which were all owned by B. N. Elias. And No. 8 Alipore Park Place also belonged to B. N. Elias. It was a beautiful bungalow with a lovely entrance with 6 or 7 servant quarters with a hedge, so it did not show. There were 4 garages. –Om (Punjabi Hindu, 1928)

They always invited me for Friday night prayers.  I was by myself and I loved to have good food. The Jewish home had something different from every other home. They would start with their prayers. Their welcome was unbelievable.  Their table was well spread and they would even give me a small bag of food to take home and that food would last me a whole week. And I became so close to them. –Otto (Anglo Indian, 1951)

Bamboo Villa at Lower Circular Road was a beautiful home. When we were children we would go at around 4 to see that beautiful long verandah, where gloved servants would pull up the chicks...My grandma used to talk about Lady Ezra’s purdah parties – exclusively for women. Her home first became part of the Indian museum…Calcutta society used to go there for tea and gossip- Bengalis, Jewish, English in the garden. –Sunanda (Bengali Hindu, 1937)

Opposite my uncle’s house on Upper Wood Street, the B.N.Elias home was picture perfect.  Their house in Agarpara, Riverside, I had the privilege of seeing in its pristine condition.  Swam in the pool and everything. Riverside, my dad worked for Martin Burn and they had outings there. The Company would just borrow it…The Mordecai-s had their house in PrafullaSircar Street, I was friendly with Cheryl and went to that house. Everything about that house exuded the sense that you had come to a Jewish home. Very vivid in my memory… And I have been once in between to Riverside – Riverside conjures a lot of beautiful memories. —Utpal (Bengali Hindu, 1946)