An empty grave

On one of my frequent visits to Bangalore in India, I was idly flicking through a street atlas of the city when I noticed a small green patch near to the Mysore Road. It was marked ‘Jewish Grave Yard’.

CEMY 1

I knew that there have been large Jewish communities in cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, Cochin, and Poona, but I had never associated Bangalore with a Jewish presence of any size. I visited the cemetery the next day. Surrounded by a huge Moslem cemetery on two sides and two roads, the well-maintained burial ground contains just over fifty graves, and the foundations of the hut which was used to prepare bodies for burial.

The land on which the cemetery is located was donated on the 9th September 1904 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. On that day, Subedar Samuel Nagavkar died, and his is the earliest death recorded on the stones in the cemetery. A notice at the entrance informs us that the land was donated due to the “efforts of the late Mr Rubin Moses”. This might have been the case, but I have reason to believe that this man did not reach India until later.

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Rubin Moses Nahoum (‘Nahoum’ has been dropped by his descendants) left his birthplace, Iraq, to join the California Gold Rush. After the city of San Francisco was struck by an earthquake in April 1906, Rubin left for India in order to become involved in the Kolar goldfields near Bangalore. By 1910, he had opened a shoe store in Bangalore’s Commercial Street. It was to become the largest in southern Asia. The large premises still exist but in another reincarnation: it is now the home of ‘Woodies’ a vegetarian café popular with the numerous shoppers in what is Bangalore’s equivalent of London’s Oxford Street.  The Moses family, who still finance the maintenance of the cemetery, had a prayer hall in the now demolished Rubin House, a building which housed a shoe factory. Any Jew living in, or visiting, Bangalore was welcome to worship there. The most notable of these visitors was a future president of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was stationed at an RAF base in Bangalore in 1946.

The majority of those buried in the cemetery were born in India and represent the various different types of Jews who lived there. Six of the graves commemorate Jews not born in India, five of them European. When Saida Abrovna Isako, a Russian Jewess, the wife of the proprietor of the Russian Circus, died in 1932, her coffin was brought to the cemetery on a bier drawn by white circus horses. Not far from her grave are those of a number of refugees from Nazi Europe. Siegfried Appel came from Bonn in Germany. His compatriots the dentist from Gleiwitz, Gunther Moritz Rahmer, and his mother Margarethe (née Schuller: the widow of Alfred Rahmer, a soap maker in Gleiwitz) lie close by, as does another German dentist, Carl Weinzweig, who had a practice in Bangalore’s MG Road.

Bangalore has been an important military base for several centuries. So, it was not surprising to discover some graves related to warfare. Yusuf Guetta died age 22 years in 1943. His grave records that he was an “evacuee” from Benghazi, the Libyan town evacuated by the British in April 1941. Yusuf lies next to the grave of Private Morris Minster of the South Wales Borderers Regiment. Morris passed away on the 4th of April 1942, aged 24. I looked up Private Minster on the Commonwealth Graves website and was surprised to find that he was recorded as being buried in the Madras War Cemetery, Chennai. Yet, I had seen and taken pictures of his grave in Bangalore.

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I wrote to the Royal Welch Regimental Museum.  Martin Everett replied, informing me that Morris, son of Solomon and Annie Minster of Salford, joined up maybe as early as 1931, and died in 1942, but not in action. He told me that at the time of his death there were no Welsh Borderers in India. They had all left for Iraq by November 1941. Morris was probably too ill to travel and remained in India. Mr Everett wrote that he believed that his remains had been moved to Chennai. He wrote also that:

“The Madras War Cemetery was created to receive Second World War graves from many civil and cantonment cemeteries in the south and east of India where their permanent maintenance could not be assured.”

Well, I can report that Morris Minster’s grave in Bangalore is certainly being well-maintained. When I enquired about the whereabouts of his body, a member of the Moses family, the last Bangalore born Jew still residing in the city, told me that a few years ago it had been disinterred and transferred to Chennai, as suggested by Martin Everett. My mind was set at rest.

I have published a photographic album showing all the graves in the cemetery, “Buried in Bangalore”.

It is available for purchase from:

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1126091

Sabotaged

My late and much-loved mother was very protective of her two children. She saw dangers everywhere. We were not allowed to go near to electric wall sockets just in case we got an electric shock. Intelligent as she was, I have the feeling that she believed that electricity flowed out of the holes in the socket like water from a tap. 

 

During my childhood, my aunt and uncle used to smoke Benson and Hedges cigaretess that were supplied in nice small hinged metal boxes, which when empty were very useful for storing small objects. When one day I was given one of these boxes, empty, my mother confiscated it immediately. She was concerned that I might cut my fingers on the sharp edges of the box.

As for matches, much caution was needed here. Despite the fact that her grandfather had owned a factory that manufactured safety matches, even safety matches were deemed unsafe by my mother. Therefore, we were forbidden to handle boxes of  (even safety) matches just in case they should spontaneously ignite in our hands or packets. I am sure her intentions were well meant, but sometimes they went a bit too far. This excerpt from my book “Charlie Chaplin Waved to Me” (he did!) shows how her anxiety sabotaged what promised to be a wonderful hiking trip:

The four of us (aged 17) embarked on a second youth hostelling trip the following Easter. Once again, we took a train to South Wales, and made our way up to our first hostel, which was located at Capel y Ffin in the Black Mountains near to the English border. We spent the night there, and awoke to discover that snow had begun to fall.

 

I had been instructed that I had to telephone home every morning to ensure that my mother knew that I was still alive. I rang from the hostel’s public telephone and my mother answered. She had heard on the radio weather forecast that there was snow in Wales, and asked meabout it. When I said that it had begun falling where we were, she ordered that we return to London immediately. Believe me, this was not an order that could be discussed. My mother, anticipating that we would surely be lost like Scott of the Antarctic in an avalanche or in freezing snow drifts, had to have us back as soon as possible. I broke the news to my 3 friends, who were furious. For about an hour they kept offering me reasons that I should give my mother in order to try to change her mind about our premature return. Eventually, they gave up. We all knew that none of these would work. And, because, I imagine, they feared my mother, we set off back to London. I have never been allowed to forget this fiasco. Even Hugh’s mother, now in her eighties, often recalls her amazement when she learnt how my mother had successfully wrecked our trip.

 

Charlie Chaplin Waved to Me” is available by clicking: HERE

Mad cow

we don’t see ev’rything

that we consume:

might be germs with any bite

 

Bovine_500

From time to time, the United Kingdom is subject to agricultural diseases that need to be accompanied by nation-wide restrictions to limit spreading. A frequently occurring example of this is so-called foot-and-mouth disease. During such epidemics, those not involved in agricultural activities, such as hikers and tourists, are confined to roads, told to keep out of fields where traces of the disease may be lying.

During one outbreak of foot-and-mouth, we were spending a holiday in Wales. Wherever we went, we saw signs and barriers that prevented free movement across the countryside. What with the incessant rain, it made our trip rather dreary. We stopped for lunch in an ugly little town in central Wales. The most attractive looking eatery was a dowdy pub, devoid of any architectural merit. We sat down in its ageing dining room, trying to avert our eyes from the peeling wallpaper and a horrible worn carpet that badly needed to be replaced. Things looked up when the inn-keeper arrived to take our food order. We were attracted to beef steaks. There was a bewildering range of options for this on the menu.  Our host patiently explained the differences between the different types of beefsteak, explaining how the tastiness of the meat itself was related to its fat content and distribution within the cut. Fillet steak, for example, has little fat, not much taste without sauces, but wonderful texture. He recommended rib-eye as being the cut with just the right amount and distribution of fat to be tasty on its own. He was quite right, we discovered in that unattractive dining room in rainy Wales.

bovine

Some years later, Mad Cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) became a concern in the UK. One evening, when we were going to a theatre near St Martins Lane in London, there were large headlines about the disease on the front page of the latest issue of the Evening Standard newspaper. Before the performance, we entered a branch of McDonalds for a quick snack. Almost everyone in the café was eating beef burgers, despite the headlines on the newspapers that some of the customers were reading!

Shortly after this, we went on a driving trip through France. In one small town, we walked passed a small restaurant with a sign hanging in its glass-fronted door. It read (in French): “We might be mad, but our beef is not.”

While the Mad Cow scare was at its height, we were invited to stay with some friends in Belgium. We had stayed with them often before. We asked them what they would like us to bring from London. They said they would love a home-made curry, enough for about twelve people. Although I am married to an Indian, it is I who makes the meat curries in our family. I prepared and cooked a huge lamb curry. As it is only a few hours’ drive between London and Belgium and the curry would have to be re-heated before being served, we thought it safe to transport the casserole containing it without refrigeration.

There were more security checks than usual at the English end of the Channel Tunnel. After our car had been examined, and the engine checked for hidden items including explosives, we were asked if we were carrying any meat products across the English Channel. We mentioned that we were transporting a casserole of cooked lamb curry. The security officials looked puzzled, told us not to move, and then walked away towards an office. One of them returned, and asked:

“It’s lamb, not beef is it?”

We confirmed that it was not beef.

“And thoroughly cooked?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what with all those spices, we’ll let you take it through the tunnel.”

Nobody asked us about meat when we arrived in France. We drove through a bath containing disinfected, and then headed for our destination.

Do they speak Welsh?

MARS

One of the many patients, whom I treated while I was studying dentisty at University College London, was a highly intelligent senior civil servant. There was much work that needed doing in his mouth, so he visited my clinic frequently and we got to know each other reasonably well. At least, that is what I began to think.

 One morning, he arrived for his appointment and sat in my dental chair. After exchanging pleasantries, he said:

“You know those Martians, who have landed in Wales?”

“Mmmm,” I replied.

“Well, I’ve heard that they communicate without exchanging words.”

“Telepathy?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s it”

I turned away from him, ready to wash my hands, when he continued:

“Well, I was wondering whether when they are in Wales they communicate in English or Welsh.”

Feeling a smile coming on, I turned my back to him, and began washing my hands for long enough for my urge to laugh to wear off.

As the saying goes, it takes all sorts…