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

Perceived Contributions

We mixed with everyone from a very young age. There were so many communities then, that it was even more acceptable than now to mix with everyone. The Jews were the most open people we knew…I remember the fun and laughter of the Jews, cakes from Nahoum’s, Riverside which was something we looked forward to all year around, playing croquet on the lawn, the slides and shoots coming into the water. –Anita (Punjabi Hindu, 1955)

Nahoum's. That was the most obvious contribution. Our school teachers. In general they made a big contribution in businesses and industries, also philanthropy, buildings and real estate. Actually the real estate is the most obvious. -Anuradha (Brahmo, 1954)

Harry Morris used to say that ‘Every family had its own USP.’ They talked business but they shared… There was something about them, there was something about their homes that was nice. Society was the richer for them.—Kishore (Kutchi Hindu, 1944)

My most vivid memory of “Jewish Calcutta” is food, no doubt starting with Aloomakala going on to Friday night dinners. And I have to say the Jewish specialty we used to get from Nahoums such as a white plaited salted cheese, there was always khala bread, there used to be yellowish soft cheese cake. –Anuradha (Brahmo, 1954)

[They contributed to the city by] just being Jewish and having a different culture. The different kinds of food we all ate and the different aura. Here comes a Jew – aloomakala . Here comes a Parsi – dhansaak.  Here comes an Anglo Indian – pork vindalloo. Calcutta was a much more interesting city. What a lovely mix. We used to have a roaring good time. Picnics at the Botancial gardens – the Anglo Indians would have their own picnics, the Goans theirs too, and the Jews and Parsis all having their own picnics. Later we got to know each other. We all went to the zoo. We would cycle to the zoo. We would say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to all our friends. Clubs were great fun too. –Marcelle (Anglo Indian, 1929)

All the Jews who I knew personally they were taking part in all the social activities of Calcutta and were major contributions for social work. They observed complete social and unreserved mixing. Only thing—they were all conscious of religious observances and rituals. For example, Pesach etc., were strictly observed. – John (Syrian Christian, 1927)

Calcutta has become too insular …and that friendliness that we had across communities has gone. That was a lovely feeling. It made people have a broader outlook. We learned other people’s customs. Our outlook on life was better. –Om (Punjabi Hindu, 1928)

Their contributions were tremendous. They were brilliant, they had a vision for things. Constantly advancing in whatever they did. Their kindness and generosity to the poor. It was so different from what we had read about in school in Shylock. But the majority was so generous with big hearts. The meals, the sabbath table is what I really appreciated. The home coming together around the table, bringing strength to the family. They opened doors. —Otto (Anglo Indian, 1951)

I think they brought a lot of dignity to the City. I don’t know much because by the time I became aware that a lot of people had left. They enriched our culture. They had a sense of propriety which is now missing. –Rati (Punjabi Hindu, 1954)