Tag Archives: India

Goa, India.

You’re kidding me…I might be Jewish? (pt2)

Goa, India.

I suppose I ought to conclude this thread I opened a little time back. Life’s been too busy of late to pick it up again and I don’t want to blog without thinking about stuff.

So, as I mentioned in part 1, there I am on my way to work
on the London Underground flicking through the latest Lonely Planet magazine, when I was drawn to a piece on the wonders of the small, south-western coastal Indian state of Kerala. It certainly looked a wonder – swooning Coconut Palms brushing powder white beaches under Azure skies…what’s not to like? But what had it to do with me?    Looking down the list of Lonely Planet’s ‘must sees’ I saw a place that caught my attention: Jew Town. Jew Town? What an odd name for an Indian city.

Jew Town is part of the
Cochin district of Kerala state and was once home to the oldest Jewish community in India, I later discovered after being engaged to research. ‘Cochin Jews’ or
‘Malabar Jews’ as they were also known, can trace their historical roots back to ancient Israel during the reign of King Solomon. They are one of the first communities thought to have been visited by one of Jesus’ 12 Disciples, ‘Doubting’ Thomas. There are only a handful of Jews left in the region now as virtually the entire population emigrated to modern Israel when it was founded in 1948. I never knew India had a Jewish population – seriously. There I was on the train, my Lonely Planet magazine open on my lap while Googling
‘Kerala….Jew Town….Indian Jews’ on my iPhone. So I discovered India once had
a Jewish population centered on it’s south western coastlands. Wait a minute.
Isn’t Goa near there somewhere???

Such is my ignorance of the land where I was born, that I thought Goa was a city in south-western coastal India. I got the coast right…but Goa is itself a state, India’s smallest and it’s a good deal north of Kerala, but in the same region. The significance of Goa? Well, it’s all I had as a teenager, starved of historical identity and any knowledge of my roots. My mother’s line has been impossible to trace. There was just the vague
glimmer of something on my father’s side because his sister, my Aunt, had also
tried before me when she was young to find her roots and my only ‘knowledge’ of
any direction at all came from several conversations with her when I started my
own search. Her search into her lineage had led her to family origins from the
state of Goa, that we were originally Roman Catholics by religion and to the
Portuguese original family name of ‘Pereira’ (my current surname, I
discovered at the same time was not my ancestral name but was adopted by my line
of the family on my father’s side after cutting up rough with and being thrown
out of the Catholic church).

 

The Portuguese Inquisitoin.

So then I turned to researching into Goa too and as with what I was finding with Kerala, I started to come across something more and more frequently – The ‘Portuguese Inquisition in India’. The Portuguese gained a foothold in India after the arrival of explorer, Vasco de Gama in 1498. Settlers came to the emerging colony from Portugal but also neighbouring Spain
and from the latter particularly to escape the Spanish Inquisition, which
started in 1478. Many of the fleeing Spanish settlers were Jews escaping the
Inquisitions in Spain aimed at eradicating or converting the Muslim and Jewish
populations. The Portuguese were not originally interested in converting the
local populations in Goa to Catholicsm, but after the the unification of Spain
against the Islamic ‘Moors’ (as airbrushed by Hollywood in the classic movie ‘El Cid’
starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren) but the rout of the Moors and
the re-Christianisation of Spain were formative in the creation of the evils of the Spanish
Inquisition and that then extended to Portugal after their royal family
inter-married with that of Spain. The Portuguese, in defference to the senior
partner in the royal liaison, implemented the Inquisition in their Indian
colonies in Kerala and Goa and torture, execution and the forced conversion of
Jews…but also Hindus and Muslims to Catholicism… began in earnest with brutal consequences.  The records of what happened in Goa were destroyed in the 19th Century.

So what has all this got to do with me?  All I know is that my connection with Israel and the Jewish people pre-dates my own ‘awakening’ to my living Christian faith. Why was it that as a 10 year old child, 11 years before I made an adult decision to become a Christian after an encounter with the living God , I woke up to this land and the Jewish people? Was there something drawing me that  comes from way back from a history I have been denied from discovering? Is my family  line somehow connected to the Jews of Goa? Am I the result of a forced  conversion  under the Portuguese Inquisition?
In the Bible there is a phrase in Psalm 42 verse 7 that says: ‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls…’ The verse describes in poetry a physical law of nature…the
searching of water back to its source as water will always do. It rises from the
oceans by evaporation into the skies to form clouds and then falls as rain when
those clouds reach land and the rain falls on the mountains and the lowlands,
but the water always seeks to run lower and lower until it finds a gulley, a
stream, a river, a waterfall…an inlet…..and then back into the ocean from
where it once came.  It’s the word ‘call’ here that speaks most to me.  As the scripture describes, the water is compelled – ‘called’ – to seek the deeper places, to return to the place from which it came.  It has no choice.  That is quite different from the word ‘desire’, which is all about choice. All I can say is that in my life I never chose this path and from what I sense of the way ahead, It’s not one that I would ever choose for want of an easy life.  None of this proves anything in terms of a Jewish heritage I may or may not have.
Is there a Jewish root somewhere in my family? Is there something in me that has been drawing me back to my source from the day I was born that can help me to understand why Israel keeps coming across my path even when I don’t seek it? I don’t know and probably will never know down here in this mortal life on Earth. There’s also a serious question I Have asked myself in all this. OK, so what if it turns out and can be proved that I am after all from Jewish roots. So what next? Am I going to all of a sudden learn Hebrew, drape Israeli flags from my walls, learn to dance the ‘Hora’ and, as my Boss quite indelicately pointed out when I discussed this with her, have bits of me sliced off to qualify for the Kosher ‘passport’? No. And again  no.  Even if I did find out I have Jewish roots, the knowledge will not validate my faith any more or make me feel,
act or believe any different from how I do now.
But it might just help me to understand for me……why Israel??
Goa, India

You’re kidding me…I could be Jewish? (pt1)

Goa, India

This is an unexpected post.  I have my Godson to thank for that, though at this point of writing he’s oblivious to it.  SJ (my Godson) with his mum (one of my best friends), gave me as a Christmas present last year an annual subscription to Lonely Planet’s monthly glossy magazine.  So I’m flicking through the October 2011 edition featuring 10 ‘Trips of a Lifetime’. I focus in on their feature on Kerala, India. Yes that is a strange and unlikely occurance for me but ironically a spot-on follow-on to my previous post and here’s why.

Dad & Mum

I was born in Calcutta, India into a  now dying out sub-culture that was the result of European-Asian interbreeding during and before the British Raj. My parents were raised in western schools, brought up in the Christian tradition, spoke English as a mother tongue and dressed in western dress. We ‘half-casts’ lived in the no-man’s land between the ruling British Raj and newly emerging and independent India. Under the Raj, we were the the next level of skilled labourers after the Brits themselves. The Civil Servants, Police force, office secretaries and Chief Engineers. When the Brits left, to the Indians we were the unwanted vestiges of Empire. During the 1960’s, most of Anglo-India left in an orderly fashion to Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and of course the ‘motherland’ as we saw it – Great Britain. At 18 months old I arrived in London in a swinging 1960’s Britain…that also didn’t really want ‘WOGS’ like us.  But we stayed and assimilated.

I sometimes think I have an inner enmity with India. I have never been back. Never think about it either. There is no ‘back’ to go to.  I’ve listened over the years to my parents’ generation talking about the good old days when they had servants who cooked and cleaned. Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Jive, Elvis, American G.I’s in port. All sounds great – for them. It’s not my past. Friends over the years have been bemused when talking to me about India. They can not understand why I don’t share their enthusiasm for visiting this vast, complex, beautiful, awesome country.  And I do appreciate India in that way from afar and can easily see the fascination.  But I’m equally bemused as to why those same friends don’t share my enthusiasm for visiting Norway, the Faroe Islands, County Clare, Ireland or the Scottish Western Isles. I realise that I don’t have any inclination to visit India because I’m just not interested enough.   I don’t have any yearnings to go ‘back’ because I never felt I belonged in the first place.

Although we certainly encountered racism in the UK, my experiences of it were pretty mild. I once remembered shopping with my mum and some white ‘lady’ letting a shop door slam in my mum’s face deliberately and then come back screaming at us in public that she didn’t hold doors open for WOGS (‘Western Oriental Gentlemen). My parents suffered from it more than me, but I guess this is testimony as to how much they protected me and my kid brother Geoff that we never really felt the full impact others like the Caribbeans faced. Even though we Anglo-Indians had a head start being westernised before we arrived, the Motherland was still embarrassed about her bastards.  Geoff and I assimilated even better than mum and dad. At school, apart from the odd ignorant git that you get everywhere, we mixed in, made our own circle of friends and grew up ‘normal’ lower-middle class kids.

It wasn’t the racism that brought me to heel one day to wonder who I was and where I belonged. It was after a history class at High School. I don’t know why but I came out of class pensive and depressed.  I loved history class – all history, no matter what time or period. I loved it. The class was on the Victorians I think. That day I came out of the room and I remember clutching my books to me as the afternoon Autumn sun streamed into the corridoor and I for the first time realised that the history I had just been taught was not my history. It was British history and I thought I was British and I was… but it was not me. As far as I knew my roots weren’t any part of it and once again I was back in No Mans Land like my sub-culture before me.

A yearning to find some roots, to understand some of the key themes that keep appearing in and physically influencing my life has always been with me. It caused me to try to uncover my past when I was around 16 or 17.  I got only so far then before hitting some brick walls and a bit more than I was comfortable with.  Then SJ’s Christmas present this week set me off on a road I’d never have gone down ever because I was never interested enough to look that way. I’ve no idea where I’m going or how to take the next step.

But I’m engaged enough to want to try…