“Empty and waiting The Teak Almirah stood witness to lonliness, longing, and pain. Secrets, fears and hopes for the future were stuffed inside its locked doors. We all make space for those we love and too often keep our dreams locked away until we find whatever it is we have been seeking.“
What does Calcutta / Kolkata mean to you- friends, family, community, lifestyle, nostalgia, happiness and many more. Kolkata is not a place regarding which feelings can be described. It is an emotion in itself which needs to be experienced. The Teak Almirah beautifully paints a picture of the various feelings regarding this place through the eyes of four Jews.
The Jews of Calcutta had come down from Baghdad. They were a prosperous community having built mane estates, bakeries, restaurants and synagogues throughout their stay in the city. In fact, Nahoums still remains as one of the best bakeries in the city. The story line narrates the life and personalities of four modern day Jews who have a strong bond with the city, their lost community and nostalgia of a time when the community flourished in Calcutta.
While most Jews decided to migrate to different countries especially to Australia, Seema decided to stay back in the city. She had emptied her Teak Almirah for the special person in her life. “He’s the only man I’ve ever loved.” Seema said, “Shall I betray him now? “. Seema , through her years of happiness and sorrows had seen the city change drastically. Tamara, on the other hand is a dancer from London. Her father was one of the very few who migrated to the United Kingdom. Having lost him at a very young age, she had always wanted to discover her father’s hometown- Calcutta. Her joy knew no bounds when she finally got the opportunity. But in time she would also discover that her identity might not be very welcome in the conservative Indian society, and thus decide to hide it. Mordy returns to Calcutta from Australia after a good sixty years to pay respects to his late parents. Unfortunately, he is greeted by shock when he sees a place and a society changed from its core. He feels like a stranger and loner in the city that he grew up in and loved much once. In fact, he starts despising the new Calcutta till he meets friends from his own community who gives him a new perspective to the city and the changes that it has harbored. Firozah, who lives in Bombay faces a new storm in her life when she discovers her long hidden past with the Jewish community of Calcutta.
The Teak Almirah is an amalgamation of nostalgia and changing times; it is a reflection of cherishing your individual identity and yet moving ahead with the progressing time. It depicts the beauty of a vanishing community and the struggles to keep it alive so that it is not wiped out completely from the memories of the people. The once flourishing Jewish community is today etched in the memories of the old. The author, Jael Silliman being one of the last members of the community in the city, is trying to archive the community memories in her website www.jewishcalcutta.in .
The Teak Almirah is available in major bookstores and can also be purchased online via Amazon.