Earlier today I came across a site — a blog, where you can submit your story in six sentences. Here’s the link: Six Sentences and below my submission.
Jewtown, Fort Cochin
We found our way to Jewtown in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India where the street is lined with old shops that have names like Sarah Jacob’s Taylor Shop, but the Jews are long gone. There’s a synagogue built in the 1500’s — the oldest in India, now a tourist attraction – outside, white stone with a large window shaped like a star of David, inside not so different from any old shul with a pulpit, a rich blue curtain with gold lettering covering the ark and hiding the torah, a plaque with the shma, another shaped like the tablets with the ten commandments, a chandelier, an upstairs women’s section. The tourists come everyday except Saturday, but no one is left who knows anything about the Jews. It’s a Sunday at the end of Diwali, and a lot of Indians are traveling and enjoying the holiday, so that day many of our fellow tourists are Indians. My partner and I are trying to remember our Hebrew, pointing and reading the shma when a young woman in a yellow sari asks me about the words. I say them aloud first in Hebrew and then I translate, explain the context, and find myself giving an impromptu tour pointing out where the women sat and why, discussing the mystery behind the curtain, that the rabbi was not a priest just a teacher, and how the torah would be carried around and the men would have a chance to kiss it.
Back in October, I visited India. I shoulda been blogging then, but wasn’t. I have a few stories to tell which I’ll get to eventually. For now here’s one:
We arrived late in Fort Cochin, Kerala after a long complex day of travel including a delayed flight and the loss of a guidebook which made us grumpy. We found our way to a homestay – an Indian B&B without the breakfast. There was the requisite eccentric proprietor and a small second-hand bookstore attached. My better half picked up a couple of books while we were registering. One, he knew I would like. It was about a young, uneducated Indian who goes on a game show called, Who Wants to Win a Billion? The concept inspired of course by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. (I live in NY where Millionaire is filmed, and I’ve auditioned several times always passing the written test, but never convincing the producers that I’ve got that certain je ne sais quoi that they’re looking for.) The book, Q&A was written by Vikras Swarup, a diplomat and first time novelist.
It proved to be a much better guide to Indian history and culture than the missing Lonely Planet, featuring as it did a map into the Indian psyche and page-turning adventures in Delhi, Mumbai, Agra and points in between. Through the Dickensian tale of Ram Mohammed Thomas, I learned about the cruel exploitation of orphans, child prostitution, conflict between Hindus and Moslems, war with Pakistan, gangsters, aging Bollywood stars and the dangers of train travel.
Of course the book has been made into a movie with a new title and a completely revamped plot. Now it’s known as Slumdog Millionaire and even the protagonist’s name has been changed. The movie is entertaining, even moving, but ultimately forgettable. I will never forget riding the packed train from Kerala to Goa during Diwali, sharing cashews with a group of young men who occasionally passed the time with some a cappella harmonizing in I know not what dialect, as I raced through Ram’s exploits and and learned how he saved the girl from the dacoit.