Friday, February 1, 2008

Jewish Wedding in Bombay

Today, A taste of Indian Jewish weddings inspired by the law commanding men to pay dowries for wronged women (you try coming up with topics 100+ times per year). The poem below is from a late, great Indian Jew Nissim Ezekiel
and our art work is from Siona Benjamin, a Bene Israel Jew, one of three Jewish tribes in India. Her family speaks Marathi, a regional Indian language. To look at Benjamin’s work, the first impression is Hindu art. Deep red, royal blue, and yellow are common colors in her paintings. Many of the characters she draws look like the Hindu depictions of gods and goddesses, with their long, multiple limbs extending out in all directions. But on closer look, things get more complicated. The body of a woman may be filled in with geometric circles and swirls that are Islamic themed. That same woman may have a yarmulke on her head or Hebrew letters floating above her.

From Her mother shed a tear or two but wasn't really
crying. It was the thing to do, so she did it
enjoying every moment. The bride laughed when I
sympathized, and said don't be silly.

Her brothers had a shoe of mine and made me pay
to get it back. The game delighted all the neighbours'
children, who never stopped staring at me, the reluctant
bridegroom of the day.

There was no dowry because they knew I was 'modern'
and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.
When I said I did't know, he laughed it off.

There was no brass band outside the synagogue
but I remember a chanting procession or two, some rituals,
lots of skull-caps, felt hats, decorated shawls
and grape juice from a common glass for bride and bridegroom.

I remember the breaking of the glass and the congregation
clapping which signified that we were well and truly married
according to the Mosaic Law.

Well that's about all. I don't think there was much
that struck me as solemn or beautiful. Mostly, we were
amused, and so were the others. Who knows how much belief
we had?

Even the most orthodox it was said ate beef because it
was cheaper, and some even risked their souls by relishing pork.
The Sabbath was for betting and swearing and drinking.

Nothing extravagant, mind you, all in a low key
and very decently kept in check. My father used to say,
these orthodox chaps certainly know how to draw the line
in their own crude way. He himself had drifted into the liberal
creed but without much conviction, taking us all with him.
My mother was very proud of being 'progressive'.

Anyway as I was saying, there was that clapping and later
we went to the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes
world-famous specialists in wedding portraits. Still later,
we lay on a floor-mattress in the kitchen of my wife's
family apartment and though it was part midnight she
kept saying let's do it darling let's do it darling
so we did it.

More than ten years passed before she told me that
she remembered being very disappointed. Is that all
there is to it? She had wondered. Back from London
eighteen months earlier, I was horribly out of practice.

During our first serious marriage quarrel she said Why did
you take my virginity from me? I would gladly have
returned it, but not one of the books I had read instructed

Good shabbos to you all.
me how.

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