Dwelling in Travelling

The story of Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta begins with a diary entry “Last night I arrived in Calcutta” made 220 years back by Shalome Ben Cohen. The community that Cohen established, prospered in the capital city of British India. They spoke in Arabic, prayed... read more

Duration: 1 hr 7 min 0 sec

Genres: Documentary

Country: India

Director: Subha Das Mollick

Submitted By: Subha Das Mollick

Dwelling in Travelling Poster
The story of Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta begins with a diary entry “Last night I arrived in Calcutta” made 220 years back by Shalome Ben Cohen. The community that Cohen established, prospered in the capital city of British India. They spoke in Arabic, prayed in Hebrew and led a kosher life.

Jewish population in Calcutta rose to 4000 in the 1940s as Calcutta gave shelter to Jews persecuted in Europe and Asia. But the community started dwindling after WWII and after Israel was formed. Today, as many of the founding fathers of the Jewish community rest eternally at the Narkeldanga Cemetry, their descendants have found new homes all over the globe. Dwelling in travelling is a defining identity of the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta.

Dwelling in Travelling dwells on memories and nostalgia and celebrates the traditions that once held the community together.

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Director's Biography

Subha Das Mollick is a teacher, writer, documentary filmmaker who switched her career from teaching Physics to teaching media more than 23 years back. She has been responsible for setting up the twin departments of Mass Comminication & Videography and Film Studies in St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. Presently she is a visiting faculty with Aliah University and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology. She has also been the principal instructor for two MOOCs on SWAYAM platform. Her recent independent documentary film Calcutta Sonata has been critically acclaimed and well received by the audience. Promising Plastic Polymers, a documentary film on uses and abuses of plastics, has received the Bronze Beaver Award at the 9th National Science Film Festival organized by Vigyan Prasar. Her latest film Dwelling in Travelling premiered at the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival and was a part of National Competition at MIFF 2020. As the secretary of Bichitra Pathshala, Das Mollick has been experimenting with the pedagogy of the moving image and developing teaching learning designs using film clippings.

Director's Statement

“Dwelling in Travelling“: The story of Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta

I met Jael Silliman at an event celebrating the thriving minority cultures in Calcutta. Jael had been invited to present her website “Recalling Jewish Calcutta”. Calcutta Jews rose to great prominence under the shadow of the British Empire. Observance of traditional practices held the community together – practices about which I was ignorant, inspite of being a cocitizen of the same city. Descriptions of weddings and barmitzbahs in the website kindled my curiosity. Calcutta would not witness these events any more. But their memories lingered.

Population of the Jewish community has dwindled from all time high of 4000 during WW II to just 20 today - reason enough to document their fading memories and dying traditions, to capture the last glow of the lamp before it got snuffed out completely. What started as an exploration of an unfamiliar culture, grew into connecting the destiny of this community to momentous global developments.

I started my research as a Calcuttan trying to understand this unique strand in the cultural tapestry of my city. The website “Recalling Jewish Calcutta” opened up a new world for me, that of the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta. There are many fascinating stories of their weddings, their religious and social celebrations, educational institutions, their professions and their everyday lives. Though small in size the community had towering personalities that included film stars, business magnets, builders, town planners, magicians and an army general who was the chief strategist of the Bangladesh War of Independence.

I felt ashamed that I was unfamiliar with the sights and sounds, the aromas and songs of this community with whom I share the same space in this city. I started planning the film keeping in mind the average Calcuttan as my primary audience. But as I proceeded with my research, I realized that I would get an audience among the Jewish community scattered all over the world and others who are interested in minority communities and how they flourished in port cities across the world. I realized that the Jewish people, even though all the time on the move, are well networked and they cultivate their connections to each other. For example, Flower Silliman’s family tree is rooted in Baghdad, but branches out through Calcutta to all corners of the globe.

The story of Jewish Calcutta is expansive, knitting the various port cities across Jewish Asia into a strong economic and cultural force. Calcutta had a special place in this string of cities from Basra to Shangahi. It was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. In British India, the Calcutta Jews rose to great prominence and contributed to all aspects of life. They were a powerful economic force in the city’s mercantile development. The film “Dwelling in Travelling“ explores the Asian diaspora communities that helped the Calcutta Jews flourish and sustain Jewish Asia. Jael Silliman writes in Jewish Portraits Indian Frames:

The relics of this once thriving community still have their imposing presence in Calcutta (Now Kolkata). There are the two grand synagogues and a prayer hall, there is the Jewish Girls’ School that still bears the Star of David on its gates and in the badges of the students, there are Esplanade Mansion and Chowringhee Mansion – two business centres built by Sir David Ezra, which are still housing several offices in the heart of the city – and there is the Narkeldanga Cemetry, where the founder of the Jewish community and his descendants have found a place for eternal rest.

The members of the Jewish community who are still here, have the mezuzah placed at their entrance doors. If you ring their bell, they graciously invite you in and talk of the days when there used to be regular get togethers at the Judean Club, when during Yom Kippur they used to walk all the way to the Synagogue to attend the prayer service and sing the psams in unision. They take out their old albums and show photographs of their bar mitzbah and wedding, they take out the silver wine goblets that were used during Shabath every Friday

The story of the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta takes a trajectory very different from that of the Jewish community in any European country.

- Subha Das Mollick

3 Reviews
  • whats Completion year ?

    28 Mar, 2020

    Somendra HARSH
    Response from Project Creater:

    September 2019. You had seen a work in progress version of this film in the Viewing Room. at Film Bazar, Goa.

    28 Mar, 2020
  • Excellent

    27 Mar, 2020

    Tusu Kundu
    Response from Project Creater:

    Thank you for your review

    27 Mar, 2020
  • An wonderful film on dwelling in travelling on memories and nostalgia on the Baghdadi Jewish population in Calcutta. A nice film to be watched. Best wishes.

    26 Mar, 2020

    Marcello Villiagram
    Response from Project Creater:

    Thank you for your review. Please recommend the film to your friends.

    26 Mar, 2020
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