dimanche 25 février 2018




The Jewish Community of Cochin, India is dead and has been dying for many years. As it usually happens, nostalgia begins to creep in and recreation efforts are undertaken. There is actually only one person in Cochin Ernakulam who can present you an authentic Malabari Cochin Cuisine which she learned from her mother in law. 
I was more than pleased when I was invited to partake in a dinner with some distinguished guests, a typical Malabari Cochin Jewish cuisine. 

L'Haim To Life .. with an Israeli wine no less in the home of the Last Jew of Cochin
I told him jokingly that if he decides to migrate to Israel, I would like to apply for that position..

samedi 24 février 2018


It was no coincidence that I received an invitation to attend a lecture at the Kadavumbagam Synagogue of Cochin that belongs to the Malabari Jews of Cochin.

 The synagogue breathes new life all due to the efforts of one man whom I refer to as the Last Jew of Cochin.

it was attended by a large crowd of Indians who were curious about Jews and had many questions. There was a smattering of Jews in the audience, all of whom came to say Hello to me: a british jew whose grandfather was born in Rangoon with her husband visiting Cochin; another London based Jew, a young man who told me of Jews of Pondicherry, a noble looking man of noble descent interested in the history of the region; a man who used to direct the Indian Museum of Calcutta, the chief sub editor of a weekly magazine.
When others left, we said Shabbat prayers welcoming Shabbat before going to a jewish home for a jewish cochin food feast!

The bottle of Hermon Red wine from Galilee was never more appropriate. Thanks to my younger brother Shimon in Haifa.
It was a very happy day for me:
began with a meeting with my good friend R at his Antique Store in Fort Cochin, then driving with him to listen to E, then praying at the Cochin Ernakulam Synagogue at Market Street, repairing to a Cochin Jewish meal with wine from the Galilee..
At the dinner, I met some very lovely people, educated, erudite and well travelled..
Cochin has been a treasury of interesting people for me, like the poet would say: an unending bakery to feed and nurture my intellectual curiosity about this quaint little town by the sea
which Zheng He visited four times in his voyages around the world in the 15th Century..
I will be back..


When I tell people in this town that I live in Havana, Cuba, a smile of recognition cover their faces. Che Castro Cuba are in the mind sets of most people here in Cochin. Kerala was the first and possibly the only place in the world where Communism arrived Democratically and was again and again elected and defeated and back in power again: all through popular vote.
I was walking towards the synagogue in Cochin Ernakulam, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a large painting of Fidel and Che.. 



There must be something in the air in Cochin for me, like I experienced in Suva, Fiji; Malacca, Malaysia, Zanzibar..but with more substance because Keralites especially the Syrian Christians I have befriended are intelligent, worldly and extremely hospitable. The other nationalities that live in Cochin, in the last count there were 32, are very friendly too but our paths do not cross.
I had come to Cochin to relax. My friend Francis accommodated me into a nice room in his boutique hotel. 
Near the hotel is a lovely Fusion restaurant called Farmer's Cafe where I had eaten before and was impressed with the philosophy of their management under Mr Farooq. I had recommended a Cuban Film Festival to run on the premises during the Biennale 2018, it would be good.
 The star attraction dish is Vegetable Thali presented extremely well and such that one does not overeat. I complimented it with a freshly squeezed Papaya Juice.
 On the way out I could greet the workers busily preparing for the evening session, and the amount and variety of vegetables were impressive.
I received a message from the manager of my favourite hotel in Fort Cochin, Bristow Lighthouse Bungalow, inviting me for coffee. It is just a short walk and truly impressed with the organization and model of the manager who used to work in the Andaman Islands before. 
We sat and chat for about an hour or more and I made reservations for my next visit. I told him that on my next visit, I plan not to leave the premises but read and write and catch up with the hectic travel year i have had since August of last year.
It also gave me an opportunity to greet the workers at the hotel and the restaurant. They exude the same type of warmth of the Kerala workers that I meet at Al Mourjan Lounge or at the hotels in Doha, Qatar.
I had been sleeping well and late as I had no agenda and I was amazed how quickly the sunset approached and of course that is something one must not miss in Fort Cochin.
The night falls suddenly and the streets have ghost like feelings. For Cochin is not a town of nightly exuberance, as the sun goes down the vendors and the shopkeepers close their doors and the local population disappears, leaving stray cats and foreigners looking for water and a morsel of food!

I walked around like a ghost for a while, the memory of the good food at Lunch was alone enough to ward off hunger, munched on some peanuts and once retired to the air conditioned room to read and write and search and learn.

Each time I pass by this first ever European church built in India (there had been christians in Kerala since 52 AD, more than 1400 years before the Europeans came with their missionaries) I think of my sister who is a devout Catholic and offer a prayer for her. I remember once meeting with a baby faced Minister of this church to discuss offering a Mass for my sisters miraculous recovery from Cancer(s).

 Burgher Street, no not a homage to the American Fat Monger but a street of prominent Merchants during the Dutch period, most of the buildings were constructed very late Portuguese era or early Dutch era. early 17th Century.

 Walking like a ghost of myself along the seashore with distant lights of another civilization, to be reminded by a poster of times from oblivion of Bob Marley, the prophet of Jamaica.

It was a lovely day for me in Fort Cochin. I travelled a long way to India but I confine myself to a square kilometre of Fort Cochin.. that is my India 

jeudi 22 février 2018


 I am comfortable with taking serpentine airline connections for the fun of it, but from Israel to Cochin has to be a classic one. Royal Jordanian from Tel Aviv to Amman, an incredibly short flight to cross the cultural and economic divide, then a shorter than expected hop on a Royal Jordanian Boeing 787 to Doha: with its glitter and glamour of possibly the best airport in the world, along with wonderful staff at Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge, a very long layover. A sweet flight of 4 1/2 hours on Sri Lankan to Colombo and another long wait, at this time at their Serendib Lounge, with very spicy curries even at that hour. Another 30 minutes ferried me across to Cochin, where the arrival formalities were prompt.
I left my friends in Haifa, after a delightful lunch at Shany Cafe, founded in 1926, caught a train at Haifa Centre-HaShmona, changing to a bus at Netanya to the Ben Gurion Airport. I had caught the 2 35 pm train. on a Monday.
 The flight from Colombo arrived at Cochin International at 8 45 am on Wednesday! A direct flight from TLV, saudi arabian air space permitting would take no longer than 6 hours.. but who would want to miss the lax atmosphere of the Queen Alia airport and its Crown Lounge with its terrible tasting Sauvignon Blanc and or the wonderful experience of being attended to by friends at Hamad International and Al Mourjan at Doha? Not to mention the hot curries of Bandaranaike Airport?
As the Backwaters came into view, the heart felt very soothed.
 Soon the UBER driver arrived, like most of his contemporaries he spoke no English (while many people in Cochin speak good English), so the imposed silence was welcome for me to enjoy the scenery and what was going on around me, from which I felt very detached. 
Felt a sense of familiarty as the car passed over the bridge to Fort Cochin, built by Sir Rober Bristow . A new port was opened on 25 May 1928! 
Bristow's audacity is still felt in Fort Cochin, and I have the pleasure of staying at his house which now houses one of the best hotels in Fort Cochin, Bristow Lighthouse Hotel.
Sir Robert enjoyed narrating a story which is easily identifiable with the philosophy of his life. Bristow used to say:
"I love the reply of the French Minister to a queen of long ago:
Madame, if it is only difficult, it is already done; if it is impossible, it shall be done.''
 The first visit of the day was to the IDIOM bookstore, and a chat with the resident manager who brings to attention recently published books. On my last visit, I was recommended to buy ALIYAH by Seethu, a socioanthropological novel about the lives of the Malabari Jews of Cochin
 A short walk away is the small restaurant where my Bhutanese friend works. it was good to see him and also partake in a bowl of Lamb Biryani
 Fort Cochin is an abundant source of human labour and intellect to the Gulf Region, so there is an influx of people from other parts of India, the Northeastern Sister states as well as some neighbouring countries to fill the gap. My friend above is a Hindu Bhutanese.
Aarthi is a young tribal girl from Rajasthan whom I befriended a few years ago. She makes jewellery and sells them on the sidewalk. She rushed back to her pavement stall when her mother informed of my arrival, modelled a bracelet I had in mind for a friend from China, A. 
 Since my last visit was just two months ago, and I have repeatedly visited this quiet part of Cochin many a times, a lot of the shopkeepers and stall keepers and vendors greeted me and in a way I felt ridiculous that I live so far away and so different a life from them, but accorded such a warm welcome
Perhaps why, I return here, along with the sentiment of calm I feel in this place
 This is a well known corner of the Fort Cochin tourist area, known as the Princess Street. Alas the tourist influx has brought in traders from Punjab who are cunning and greedy and dishonest and many a tourist falls for their fictitious wares. To me the tourists are welcome but these touts are not.
 I wanted to send Kerala outfits to the daughters of my friends in Haifa, so that they can use it part of the outfit for the upcoming PURIM celebrations. The tailor and his assistant greeted me eagerly and transactions were carried out in a pleasant manner. I also wanted to get a nice scarf for my Cuban Mother.
 As the sun sets a large crowd of Indians gather at the seashore and the cacophony adds to the serenity of the sun sinking down into the Arabian Sea.
 A huge cruise  dwarfs the cochin port scenery as it exits the Port channel. (which was formed in 1341 CE after a cataclysmic event)

Chinese fishing nets, came in with that greatest Chinese Navigator of all times, Zheng Ho/ Cheng He on his voyages to Cochin in the 15th Century.
Fort Cochin closes early, so i rushed for a small plate of Curry and Paratta. 
Walked slowly back to the hotel, caressed by the winds from the Arabian Sea.
In 1428 CE, Abraham Ben Yiju, a Tunisian jew who came to these shores as a trader, might have made this journey over the course of weeks. 
It took me less than two days
But the excitement is very similar!
In more than what seems a coincidence (American Indians do not believe in concidences, they say things occur and you are not smart enough to figure out why?)
He invited me to join the Shabbat prayers as well as the dinner which will feature some cochini dishes (betraying their middle eastern connections) Pastel, Kubbeh. Ha! I do remember, I have a bottle of wine my family in Haifa gave me. You see, everything is related, as American Indians would say: Mitakuye Oyasin