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

Pride and Prejudice

We never called them Jews.  We called them Jewish. We were brought up in Loreto. We did not know who was who and we did not bother what community a girl came from. We never knew whose parents were what. We were too innocent as we did not think of them as a closed community. We always felt very included in what they did. –Farkondeh (Iranian Muslim, 1942)

From my point of view I did not have those prejudices towards any person or community. Generally at the race course or sporting events I attended that was not at all evident. May have been an undercurrent…prejudice is much more today and so are people more caste conscious now. We never asked a person what caste or what community you belonged to. Much more now and it is so blatant. —Name withheld (Anglo Indian, 1938)

I found the older Jewish generation very reticent about mixing. They had a ghetto mentality and since they came from traumatic pasts… At the turn of the century the Bagdadi Jews were slaughtered and that is why they were stranded over here...The Iraqi Jews, like the Obadiah’s and Haskel’s family had a traumatic history in Iraq which made them clannish.Jewish people of that generation had Muslim servants so they would not have tref food.  They were very reticent to come out to eat. –Maureen (Anglo Indian, 1939)

Even though Europeans did not consider Jews to be Europeans, Indians did. For us there were so many shades of European in India. There was no prejudice towards the Jews. Jews were quite integrated into the upper class westernized/Anglicized community of Calcutta. Once you were in that cosmopolitan culture it did not matter from which community you came. We all shared the same Anglicized culture and outlook. It was only in our homes we may have been different but that was not public. –Sunanda (Bengali Hindu, 1937)

I was very fortunate to have been brought up in a City where the minority communities all made a special contribution to the City. Christmas time the hampers which came from all communities. We did not discriminate which is what made Calcutta what it was. If they did not reach out they would not flourish or be accepted in the way they did. They jelled. —Utpal (Bengali Hindu, 1946)