Still Standing – the Last Jews of Jew Town

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala.  Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala. Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

Xandari Harbour, going beyond a hotel, doubles as a gateway to history. Located between the tourist paradise of Fort Kochi and the heritage rich bylanes of the spice markets of Mattanchery, it sees people and time come and go. Among the tales we hold precious is the heartwarming lifestory of the Jews of Jew Town. A handful left, behind doors and windows they sit – reminders of a people who found warm refuge in an alien land. Reminders of a page of a history turning to close.

In a small neighbourhood in the South Indian city of Cochin, Kashmiri shopkeepers in Islamic dress stand in front of shops emblazoned with banners reading “Shalom!” Inside, Hindu statues and shawls vie for space with Jewish stars, menorahs and mezuzahs. Although this multiculturalism might seem strange, the majority-Hindu city is well known for its substantial Muslim and Christian populations. Less known is that there’s also a fast-dwindling native Jewish community, known as the Paradesi (Foreign) Jews, who once populated the neighbourhood of Jew Town.

Continue reading

What’s The Catch?

Golden hour at the line of fishing nets along Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Rosanna

Golden hour at the line of fishing nets along Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Rosanna

Are you a traveler or a tourist? Yes, both mean different things. A traveler – unhurried, lacks the “need” to see/do things, explores beyond the ‘must’ eat, visit lists. A tourist – one for order, one who settles for a “simplified ABC version of the globe“. Highly subjective definitions, yes. Disputable, too. But it easily makes you and I a traveler every single day, at every other place. It makes me a traveler in my own land, in my own time. Friend to tourists and wayfarers, a commonplace storyteller, a forever traveler.

Continue reading

Walk About

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the planning and execution of a video project as part of my internship. We worked with creative director Anoodha Kunnath, who has already produced many videos about different topics.

The first step was of course a discussion between Anoodha and Raxa Collective to understand what they both expected from the video. This took place about one month ago – at the beginning of my training – so it was really interesting for me to be aware, in a different way, of the company and its philosophy. The main goal of Anoodha’s work will be to communicate all the characteristics of Xandari Harbour (one of the hotels developed and managed by Raxa Collective) and of course its fascinating location.

Continue reading

India and the Malay Literary Tradition

Caritra Rama, in romanised Malay with many Javanese elements, copied at Surabaya in February 1812. PHOTO: British Library, MSS Malay D 7, f. 5r (detail).

Caritra Rama, in romanised Malay with many Javanese elements, copied at Surabaya in February 1812. PHOTO: British Library, MSS Malay D 7, f. 5r (detail).

The epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata find their meaning and origin on Indian soil but their reach goes beyond the subcontinent. And the British Library’s archives find evidences of these in Malay literary traditions.

The great Indian epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata were known throughout Southeast Asia, but it was the Ramayana that most profoundly influenced Malay literary tradition. One of the oldest Malay manuscripts in a British collection is a copy of the Hikayat Seri Rama in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which bears the ownership inscription of Archbishop Laud dated 1633. The British Library holds a manuscript of Caritra Rama, “The story of Ram”, in romanised Malay, which was copied in Surabaya in 1812.

Continue reading

When Food Unites

Vigorón served at El Gordito in Granada, Nicaragua. The combination of soft, starchy yucca; salty, rough pork cracklings; and tangy, cool slaw made with cabbage, onions, tomato, mimbre fruit (also known as mimbro), chile and vinegar offers a distinct interplay of textures and flavors. PHOTO: Julie Schwietert Collazo for NPR

Vigorón served at El Gordito in Granada, Nicaragua. The combination of soft, starchy yucca; salty, rough pork cracklings; and tangy, cool slaw made with cabbage, onions, tomato, mimbre fruit, chile and vinegar. PHOTO: Julie Schwietert Collazo for NPR

No matter how different our ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, views and values are, we can all sit around a dinner table and unite in sharing a meal that includes different tastes and types of food from all over the globe – the palate knows no boundaries and no limitations. In a divided country like Nicaragua, all differences melt when it comes to vigoron. The national dish that cuts across political ideologies, economic status, and strong preferences.

Continue reading

India’s Forgotten Stepwells

All across India, elaborate subterranean temples are hidden in plain site. Constructed between the 2nd century and 4th century AD, these massive and ornate stepwells were built both for spiritual bathing and as a way to access water tables during monsoon season and drought seasons. Many stepwells have been abandoned and are in disrepair since the introduction of modern waterworks, plumbing and village taps. Some have been destroyed. Because the water table is even lower in recent years, many are now dry. Victoria Lautman, a freelance journalist in Chicago, has been traveling around India documenting stepwells before more fall into dereliction are destroyed by neglect or outright demolition.

Continue reading

The Tradition of a Most Dangerous Game

The Calcio Storico is an ancient form of football from 16th century Italy, which originated from the ancient Roman ‘harpastum’, and is played in teams of 27, using both feet and hands. Sucker-punches and kicks to the head are prohibited but headbutting, punching, elbowing, and choking are all allowed

Welcome to Calcio Storico, a centuries-old competition in Florence with very few rules and the sort of human wreckage generally associated with the gladiators. Dating back to 16th century Italy, today’s calcio storico (see photos from The Guardian here), or historic soccer, may be both the most violent form of soccer in the world. It is played only in Florence, Italy, where four 27-man teams representing four historic Florentine neighborhoods—Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, and San Giovanni—face off to beat each other to a pulp, every June. Kicks to the head are forbidden. So are fights of two or more against one. Everything else goes, making the goal of moving a leather ball from one end of the field to another seem like a side note to the bloody proceedings.

Continue reading

For the Love of Rains and Traditions

Celebrated in June every year, San Joao is one of Goa's cultural festivals. Tradition has it that it was on this day that unborn St. John the Baptist 'leapt with joy' in his mother Elizabeth's womb, as Mary, the mother of Jesus visited her.

Celebrated in June every year, San Joao is one of Goa’s cultural festivals. Tradition has it that it was on this day that unborn St. John the Baptist ‘leapt with joy’ in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, as Mary, the mother of Jesus visited her. PHOTO: Harsha Vadlamani

Yes, this is yet another rain-inspired story, after the one on Communist reading rooms. But such is the power of the Indian monsoon, that it can sway even the most stoic of minds. For comparison, the feelings and emotions associated with the deluge mirror those of when sighting the first of the cherry blossoms or even the Northern Lights. May be less, may be more. Any how, this post is about a fun tradition that has its roots in the picturesque villages of Goa, a popular tourist destination. And the feast of Sao Joao is a playful mix of religion, tradition, lots of merrymaking, and jumping into wells. Yes, wells. And oh, the event marks the six-month countdown to Christmas!

Continue reading

Mind Your Language

As global trade expanded through European conquests of the East Indies, the flow of Indian words into English gathered momentum. PHOTO: EDL

As global trade expanded through European conquests of the East Indies, the flow of Indian words into English gathered momentum. PHOTO: EDL

Recently, we discussed Indian classical music as a ground of collaborations and exchanges. Cultural hegemony aside, we’d rooted for the European violin which is a mainstay at temple concerts and for the clarinet and trombone, which we may be lucky to see in music arrangements. Today, it’s about language. About how India gave the world worlds including pundit, jungle, nirvana, and more.

“Ginger, pepper and indigo entered English via ancient routes: they reflect the early Greek and Roman trade with India and come through Greek and Latin into English,” says Kate Teltscher. “Ginger comes from Malayalam in Kerala, travels through Greek and Latin into Old French and Old English, and then the word and plant become a global commodity. In the 15th Century, it’s introduced into the Caribbean and Africa and it grows, so the word, the plant and the spice spread across the world.” “The Portuguese conquest of Goa dates back to the 16th Century, and mango, and curry, both come to us via Portuguese – mango began as ‘mangai’ in Malayalam and Tamil, entered Portuguese as ‘manga’ and then English with an ‘o’ ending,” she says.

Continue reading

Of Rains and Communist Reading Rooms

View of the approaching storm from our Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

View of the approaching storm on Vembanad Lake, from a Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

Monsoon rains in Kerala – the greatest drama I’ve ever watched. They tick everything on Aristotle’s checklist for a good play. A country dried by summer and hoping on a good ending makes for a decent plot. Meet the characters. A thick blanket of menacing grey, humid air hugging skin. Gusty winds that uproot trees and power lines, darkness that comes calling even before night. And the stellar spectacle of a finale – prayers, predictions, and calculations answered in silvery drops. Stunning, stinging, and relieving all at once.

Writing this while watching blue and grey jostle in the skies, the earth still smelling of the last rain (petrichor is the word), I am reminded of the book I’m reading now. One that is as old as me, one befitting the best season in India. Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon.

“As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon.”
Alexander Frater, Chasing the Monsoon

Continue reading