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

Growing Up in Jewish Neighbourhoods

I had Jewish friends in school (Calcutta Girls' School) and Jewish neighbors, in No. 8 Grant Lane. I would say No. 8 is a complex with many little buildings in it. It was almost like a complete Jewish area. There were a few Jews who also lived in the next lane called Bundukgalli. I felt as if I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. We enjoyed it. –Katayun (Parsi, 1938)

I first came into contact with Jewish People since I was a little boy. We moved around in gangs of children and were in and out of each other’s homes…Seriously all the people in the mansions did not bother about what community each family was from. We were secular in nature and accepted one another and were kind of proud if someone achieved something. –Naresh (Sindhi, Hindu, 1945)

I was five years old when we came to Calcutta from Bombay after my father joined National Tobacco Company, of the B.N. Elias group, as Factory manager. Since it was a factory outside the city, we had all lived on the premises in a beautiful residential colony in the village called Agarpara. Most of my friends and neighbors were Jewish. All my father’s colleagues were from the Jewish community. There were only three to four Bengali families there but we were too young and free of racial discrimination to feel that any of us was different from the other.We grew up like family. We lived in each others’ houses; we slept in each others’ homes.  There were no fences and no boundaries, neither physical nor mental. Just as our lawns flowed into one another’s gardens so too did our lives. We did not know the difference between being Jewish or Bengali. Whatever difference there appeared to be in our food habits or clothes (the Bengali Moms wore Saris while the Jewish Moms wore Jalabas), we relished it as a part of our colourful lives.  There was nothing that we did not know about each others’ lives. If I wanted my hair curled, I went to one aunty; if they wanted to learn fruitcake they came to my mother. If one child was critically ill, all the aunties would take turns to nurse and keep vigil at the bedside. There was no ego and the interesting thing is that there was no consideration of status among the families.  My father became the ‘burrasahb’ but we had to wish even the junior supervisors and their wives. They could quite easily reprimand anyone else’s child and all the parents were equally concerned with the welfare of all the children. –Iti (Bengali Hindu, 1941)