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Saturday, January 11, 2014

LAST JEW OF COCHIN

Solomon was dying 
it was early in the morning in the relief centre 
Solomons eyes were closed but he saw his messiah his white mane flowing in the wind and the etched features .
The  long silver beard thick and curled ,   tall and muscular  arms outstretched he could clearly see the saviour of Jews leading into the deep blue thundering sea
The waves were huge and crashing the coast dipped deep into the sea  as  lightening flashed and heavy rain lashed
Nothing deterred them now as they followed their chosen one who led them with no fear  into the deep sea
Faith removes fear
The thundering hooves of the Egyptians were heard closely now as they followed in haste
 Moses stopped with his raised hands looked at the dark sky and hailed his lord to save his people
His cries were sepulchral and reached the skies
The dark clouds erupted into roaring rains
The sky turned blood red and dark and foreboding
and the  deep sea parted its way
Moses  strove forwards descending into the deep ocean
the waters were towering on the sides like glass waterfalls glistening and hurtling  but not making one of them wet as they followed him into the deep waters ,
Huge fish could be seen on the sides like an aquarium
Ships stood like figurines in glass
The sea remained  parted till every Jew was on the other side and as the Egyptians  in their horses followed them it crashed on them
It  sunk them like match boxes their huge chariots led by white steeds fumbled and sunk with no trace as hordes of Egyptians and their pharaoh were lost into the ocean and snuffed out of existence
It was all quiet
Solomon was dead
The last Jew in Cochin had left the world
The relief home was sombre in its silence
it was dawn and the inmates were slowly waking up into another day of destituteness ,
a few looked at Solomon as he lay there  with a beatific smile on his face
the smile on seeing his  saviour at last .
he had been in the centre  for the last decade
Age had caught up on Solomon and the lonely existence in the deserted synagogue  was denied to him
He had persisted to stay there even when his people had left one by one to the Promised Land
To Israel where their saviour had led them from the chasing pharaohs and his soldiers it was eons after which Israel as a state could come into existence
Solomon was an young man when Hitler exterminated Jews like rats gassing them in multitudes in the most horrible holocaust and racial snuffing the world had ever seen
Jews anywhere in the world had always been persecuted as Hitler .drove them out of Europe
 Those with skills could manage to reach the shores of the US of A where they made a mark and became a powerful community
But during all this the Jews in Cochin were never in trouble
 They had always been treated like they were part of the land
And how they were
Many could speak Malayalam well and they knew all the local customs
They were good business men and were prosperous
But they never abandoned their faith or their traditions
To them their community was above all their language their customs their holy books their God and their synagogue were above anything else
They never married outside the community and maintained purity of their race
They were very particular on this
It was long long back when  a group of Jews had migrated from Europe fearing the persecution of the Spanish
They had met the maharaja of Cochin and asked him refuge
The maharaja asked for a glass of milk to be brought to him
He took some small pebbles and put it in the milk
He looked at the Jewish leader and said  “you would be like the pebbles here and can never be part of us “
The Jewish leader was wise he asked for another glass of milk and some sugar he stirred the sugar in the milk and gave it to the maharaja and said
“Your highness we would melt like sugar in this milk and make it only sweeter  “.
The Maharaja was impressed
He gave them a large piece of land and allowed them to carry on their business in peace and practice their religion with total freedom
Probably India and Kerala were the only place where Jews were not persecuted
And thus the Jewish community in Cochin grew around the synagogue.


Solomon was the fourth child of Yehuda and pearl
His dad was a tombstone maker
Strange job but he was in it from childhood as an apprentice slowly learning the art of creating tombstones with their epitaphs and most of the tombstones that adorned the Jewish cemetery were made by him
He was a busy man too as young and old died in the community making it smaller and smaller over time
He too left early and an epitaph went up over his tomb which said
“Here lies Yehuda the one who wrote for the dead” ,
And some Hebrew hieroglyphics
Alas he too was gone.
Solomon was just a child when it happened,
He had seen his dad bending over the stones in the cemetery working in pouring rain or hot suns,
He used to tag alone as he liked the quite of the cemetery
People rarely came there even though it was just off the Jewish settlement
They came there only when dead or with the dead
But for Solomon it was a dear place a place where he felt his dad’s presence
With time he could hardly remember his dad
 His face had faded away but he could still feel his presence as a wispy memory
He could see the knurled hands as they worked the clicking sounds as he chipped away the stones and cleared the weeds
It was his mother he remembered well for she died when he was in his sixties by then she was eighty two and was just planning to fly to Israel when it happened.
All his brothers and sisters all eight of them had flown one by one and settled down in Tel Aviv and so many other places
 They wrote back tales of the Promised Land asking him to join them but Solomon knew in his heart he would never leave his Cochin
He would never leave his tombstones where he could feel his dad in the stones
 During the monsoon it rained for days in Cochin
The incessant downpours would hammer into the tombstones creating strange sounds
He would sit under one of the awnings listening to its fall as it was music to him
He would light an occasional cigarette cupping his hands to prevent the match from going off in the gusts of the rain
During rains the electric current would often go off and Solomon would sit in the dark hooded and bearded and the people found him strange
It was then he would think of her
She was always in his mind all the time day and night
But she would become alive in such lonely moments
He would hear the tinkle of her anklets in the dark
He could smell the jasmine adorning her black hair
He could see the colour of the jacket and skirt she wore
He felt happy to see her almond eyes looking at him fleetingly
Solomon too then had lovely blue eyes with brown freckles
He was a handsome man in his youth  
He was then working in Deborah’s shop
Deborah and Benjamin were the richest in the community
They owned many shops but the one where Solomon worked was their earliest   started with the money  Benjamin had got as a present from Deborah’s dad who was working in Malaysia in an estate  and was reasonably rich ,
Benjamin had started it as an all-purpose shop and it had flourished
Young Solomon was one of the many who worked there
The Jews in Cochin always had a closeness to their own
The shop was near pazhayarakavu  Bagavathy temple
The Devi temple was housed in the Dutch palace
Cochin is one place with history every where
All one needed was to scratch it anywhere and rich lore’s would start flowing like a river
Over the years Cochin had the Dutch the Portuguese and the British ruling its pockets
The maharaja too had his fiefdom
The Dutch had given away the palace to the maharaja as a gift and he had made a temple in it
This was where Solomon first saw her
His Lakshmi
She came from the Brahmana samooham in Mattancherry a colony of houses with many Brahmin households speaking a mixture of Malayalam and Tamil.
The Brahmins of Cochin added to its variety
They had their own small temple inside but still the girls would come to pazhayarakavil in the evenings adorned with jasmine flowers their anklets twinkling
They were pretty and most of them knew classical singing and dancing and hence walked with grace
Lakshmi was the only daughter of Kailas Iyer and Mani mammi
 To Kailas Iyer and his wife mammi   Lakshmi was everything
Kailas Iyer was the manager of the cooperative Bank
Lakshmi  was the most good looking girl in the colony and many young men  in the neighbourhood looked at here with a sigh
Solomon too fell for her the day he saw her
On that day she had come to the temple with her friends walking daintily  lifting her skirt as the road was wet after the rains
He couldn’t take his eyes off her
It happens that if there are intense feelings to someone it is felt unseen by the person.
Suddenly Lakshmi looked back as she had an uncanny feel that someone was looking at her
And she looked into the brown flecked blue eyes of the Jew
Their eyes locked for a  second before she willingly looked elsewhere but Solomon knew she had noticed him
He felt happy and did not know why
By then he heard Deborah calling him and he went away
But he looked out for Lakshmi since that day
His mother asked him to continue his studies and go to college so that he would get a good job in Israel as there was no doubt that sooner or later they would go there but Solomon was never good at studies he was not good in his father’s job too
He managed to do his job in the shop and was happy about that
Finally his mother too stopped telling him
His eldest brother David would call him a wastrel but his sister in law Sarah was kind to him and would protect him from David’s hard words
 it was to Sarah he would tell all is secrets and his problems
And it was to Sarah he told of how he had fallen for a Brahmin girl!
By now Lakshmi too had started searching for Solomon when she came to the temple they looked at each other with a gentle smile
During the festival in the temple Solomon managed to go near her in the crowd and pass a letter to her
He had pored over it for days and wrote it with great heartache and he felt happy that Lakshmi took it from him he never expected a reply but the next day Suppini the slightly hare brained boy in the Brahmins colony walked into his shop and handed over a letter from Lakshmi he was stunned
He rushed inside the small store room and opened it to read it
His Lakshmi had written that she too liked him but felt they had no future as her dad would never allow her to marry a Jewish boy so better to forget things earlier and carry on
She was a realist but Solomon would not take this as an answer
He was going to get his Lakshmi whatever
Years rolled on with their furtive glances graduating to hurried whispers under dusky corridors in the Dutch palace where Solomon would declare his unparalleled love to his girl
By then David had found a Jewish lass for Solomon and was planning to arrange their wedding
Leora was studying in college but liked Solomon and had agreed for the match.
Solomon knew her well as they had all played together as children
She was a nice girl cute to look at but not for being his wife
To him that could be only Lakshmi
He met Leora near her college one day and told the truth of his love for Lakshmi
Leora laughed a bit sad initially but promised she would tell her father that she was not happy on getting married to Solomon on some pretext
she knew her dad would agree for anything and they were also in the verge of travelling to Israel so it really wouldn’t matter much as her choice there would be wider .
David was furious at the turn of events and looked at Solomon with suspicion he knew his brother had an eye for an Indian girl
Sarah who knew all just kept her secret
Time was passing and Laxmis dad had started looking for a match for her
It would be now or never
Solomon was ready to run away with her but she wanted nothing of the sort
Solomon dared to do the unbelievable
He strode straight into Lakshmi’s house one day and met her dad
Kailas Iyer was reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in a steel glass and the radio was belting out a Carnatic classical when he knocked the door
“Yes what can I do for you? “
asked Kailas Iyer as he opened the door
“Aren’t you working in Deborah’s shop?
 Iyer had seen the boy there .
“Yes sir I am “
 “Ok anything you want to tell?
He stood like a rock and Solomon was not called inside
“May I sit sir? “
Kailas Iyer did not like the tone
“Ok sit in the veranda “saying this he offered a chair to the visitor and he himself sat on an easy reclining chair
Yes
Well sir Iam a Jew living near the synagogue and my name is Solomon
I know I know Kailas Iyer was a bit impatient
He prided himself in knowing most of the people in and around the area
“I knew your dad he was the one who  made those tombstones right ?
 died years back I remember  “
Yes sir
“Ok  what brings  you here now “
“Sir, Lakshmi “
“Lakshmi!  what about Lakshmi  “
Kailas Iyer found it strange this fellow could name his daughter in a conversation
“What does Lakshmi have to do with you? “
“Lakshmi your daughter “
“Of course Lakshmi is my daughter……. What? “
“Well sir I like her, can I marry her  ? “
Kailas Iyer sat like a stone
It was unbelievable
This this Jew fellow could come up to him and ask for his daughter just like that
He was shocked and stunned at the audacity
“Get up
Get out
Before I go mad
What do you think you are
How dare you ask for Lakshmi’s hand?
Get lost “
 “Sir don’t get angry
I can look after her well
My passage to Israel is assured and as my wife she will come along we will lead a happier life
 Abroad “.
“You go to Israel or Nigeria for all I care “
“You thought I will give my daughter because you can take her to Israel you idiot I will kill you
get out now how dare you could ask me the question  “
Solomon was angry now
“Sir I did no wrong Lakshmi too likes me ask her if you want  
I just asked for her hand like a man “
“Well I don’t want some shop attendants coming here asking for my only daughters hand
So off “
By now kailas Iyers neighbours had smelt trouble and had slowly come there
“What’s the  problem Kailas a  ? “
“This fellow wants to marry my Lakshmi it seems he will take her to Israel “
 “No wonder these Jews were driven off from everywhere “this from a rotund neighbour
Solomon drew himself tall
“Don’t you curse us Jews
We are  brave people and the best
If you don’t want to give your daughter so be it but if you touch on my community I would become a different person “
“Look look he is threatening us now get out or I will call the police  
He could hear Lakshmi whimpering inside “
She knew it would end up like this
Solomon had tried to meet her and tell her that they could run away but kailas Iyer had his hawk eyes on him
He also put in a word to David and Benjamin who had taken loans from his bank and Solomon was strictly told to lay off Lakshmi .
One fine day Lakshmi had got married and gone off leaving a giant vacuum in his heart
Solomon turned dour and mostly never smiled
His age was catching up he was in his late forties
He moved into the synagogue as its caretaker and would sit long hours in the evening in the cemetery thinking of his Lakshmi
He heard she was now in Bombay in Matunga where most of the Iyers lived married to what else another banker and she had two children too
The Jewish Romeo still pined for her
His mother had stopped asking him to get married
She knew it would never happen
David and Sarah and all the others had left to Israel
And his mother had died just before she could leave
She never was very keen and was happy to be with Solomon but David wanted her there
Having   a senior citizen in the house could get a   lot of advantages for the whole family in Israel
But the day she was to leave his mother too died of a broken heart
Solomon was truly alone now
More than sixty years he had aged and looked different from the blue eyed boy he was earlier
Kailas iyer had died and Solomon had even gone to the house hoping to get a glimpse of his Lakshmi he saw her with her greying hairs in distress crying over her dad
Her feelings for the Jewish boy had all disappeared as an infatuation.
But to Solomon it would never go
To the people around he was like a relic
Once The local daily published an article on the last Jew which made him popular
Tourists would ask for taking photographs with him and he would get paid
He lived like this
The synagogue too was becoming old and faded
The government maintained it now as a heritage property
Newly appointed clerks collected ticket money for seeing the place and a lot of tourists visited it
There were numerous handicrafts shops strewn around the synagogue
Solomon was in his late seventies and was officially jobless but was allowed to stay in a small alcove in the synagogue
One day he became sick and was admitted in the local government hospital
Solomon had a stroke and had right sided weakness he could no longer walk by his own
Hence his food became a problem as he could not walk to the small tea shops where he had his food
The police one day shifted him to the relief centre full of beggars and destitute
His last days as a Jew in Cochin would end there
And finally the day had come a
  Moses the messiah  who took him at last to the promised land came to him  in his last dream

Thus This is the story of the last Jew in Cochin .


Note : having lived for more than two decades in Cochin I had always been fascinated on the Jewish settlement and their synagogue


his story sprung off purely on my imagination and has no relation to anyone who lived there or are still living there .





1 comment:

Raju said...

thanks for a story that helps me understand how reality and imagination can give us different perspectives that could add to our understanding.
could you recommend any story sites that you like. your style is unique and i just wanted to know your choice.
thanks again.

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