Jefe's House

Tag: india

Never Forget

by on Jan.20, 2017, under On the Road, Politics, Shaheb Cafe

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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I realize there are numerous examples of horrific cruelty in our history — the Middle Passage and Concentration Camps always come to mind first and foremost — but here’s one more. We might want to call such crimes unspeakable but they need to be spoken.

Look up Reginald Edward Harry Dyer for the full scoop. The thousands of citizens, including entire families, who gathered were attempting a Gandhian peaceful protest and also during a religious festival when the city of Amritsar was packed. This is just down the hill from the Sikhs’ Golden Temple.

20161223_09294920161223_092937The protest was on rented private property in a back alley courtyard. Dyer had stupidly issued a Jim Crow-like order barring Indians from congregating in groups of 6 or more (in their own country) and decided to make an example of this particular group that included children.  British sources gave a figure of 379 killed with 1,100 wounded. The Indian National Congress counted more than 1000 dead and 1500 injured. 

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“People were fired at from here.”

Churchill later called it a “monstrous” and UnBritish act. Dyer was also all about half-naked public floggings of private citizens and his soldiers fond of stopping pedestrians and making them slither down the street like worms at gunpoint. The British parliament viewed Dyer as a hero. By the way, it’s reenacted in the movie Gandhi as one of the watershed moments leading up to the widespread popularity of the independence movement.

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Martyrs Well.

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“To escape the deadly firing, many people fell into this well. About 120 dead bodies were recovered from it.”

 

 

 

 

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These Guys

by on Jan.10, 2017, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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The Sharma Handicrafts Guys.

Great story here about how I finally scored a hookah with my name on it after multiple letdowns in Kolkata, Varanasi and Lucknow. The short version – these guys in Delhi at Sharma Handicrafts were the bomb and we made a good deal on my last day thanks largely to shrewdness and translation help from my cousin.

I’ll have to post a photo of this 42″ stunning work of art, black with polished brass inlays in the Moradabad (ancient Muslim city) style. The owner stuck by his product, bargained fairly and gave me his card and said if there were any problems to come back and see him.

As soon as I left with hookah in hand and turned to take a pic of the shop he came out and posed without waiting to be asked. Then his two assistants trailed out one by one and struck poses on either side of him (they must have been a rock band in a previous career given how they naturally fell in line as though posing for an album cover).

I promised them I’d give the shop a plug online so here it is. If you’re ever in Delhi and looking for a brass shop, head to Sharma Handicrafts, Janpath Market, Stall 6. Tell them the saheb who bought the big black hookah sent you.

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Mr. Sharma’s business card.

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Contacting the Dead in West Bengal

by on Feb.18, 2015, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Truth Is In Here

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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I’ve traveled India a bunch in the past five years and have learned that almost no one in India seems to have heard of a Ouija board. I’ve also been in tons of stores ranging from rustic bazaars to gleaming shopping malls and have never seen a Ouija board for sale even though they have plenty of other Western toys and board games.

People there do, however, know what you’re talking about when you explain it, only they call it “doing planchette” and those who do it would only ever make their own. The idea of buying one seems foreign to them. Culturally, “doing planchette” seems to hold the same place as it does here: spooky, scary, forbidden, inviting doom, naughty, tempting, very real. Once I got my wife’s Hindu family elders talking about it, they recalled tons of stories that pretty much parallel the kinds of escapades you hear recalled in the US.

Her great uncle warned me against it, telling me there’s a reason God has created two separate dimensions for the living and the dead, and that to try and bridge the gap is inviting trouble. He then told me how once as a young man he and a bunch of friends were vacationing in a small shack in the jungle on a wildlife preserve (the Indian version of the “cabin in the woods” archetypal horror setting) and one evening they got bored and someone made a planchette board. They typically use a coin as the planchette. They soon were in touch with a man who said he was recently deceased. He said he was a Naxalite (Indian Marxist rebel) who had recently been killed by a rival Communist. At that moment the lights went out, engulfing them in darkness. Everybody freaked, they balled up the planchette board and threw it away and my great-uncle vowed never to do the planchette again.

He remains true to his word. I asked him if he would draw one for me exactly as they had drawn them back in the day, and he grimly said, “This is not possible.”

I dropped the subject but later that evening I approached my wife’s grandmother to ask the same question. She shrugged and said, (continue reading…)

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A Magical Child

by on Feb.07, 2015, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

shaheb – (India; also saheb, sahib; from the Hindi and Urdu sāhab, master; from Arabic ṣāḥib, companion; participle of ṣaḥiba, to become friends) 
1. formerly, a term of respect for any  male landowner
2. formerly, a term of respect for white European men during the British colonial era
3. (modern) any white man
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A talented young street magician I shot in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India after she approached us shouting “Magic? Magic?”  My 3-year-old son has recently discovered magic so we gave her the nod. She dropped to the ground, emptied the contents of her bag and went to town. Soon a small crowd formed to watch.  My son’s mind was blown, especially when she made money disappear from my wife’s hand and come out of my son’s ear and nose.  I am extremely envious of her sleight of hand skills.  Apologies for the wind noise.

 

I realize there is perhaps, potentially, a darker side to this, like where are her parents? I didn’t see them, but I didn’t see a Fagin lurking about (continue reading…)

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Remnants of Jewish Kolkata

by on Jan.31, 2015, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

shaheb – (India; also saheb, sahib; from the Hindi and Urdu sāhab, master; from Arabic ṣāḥib, companion; participle of ṣaḥiba, to become friends) 
1. formerly, a term of respect for any  male landowner
2. formerly, a term of respect for white European men during the British colonial era
3. (modern) any white man
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Temple Beth-El built in 1856.

Kolkata’s oldest synagogue, Beth-El, built in 1856.

There only 25 Jews left in Kolkata but three large, old synagogues speak to their former vast numbers. They were Baghdadi Jews from the Middle East. Getting into these synagogues as an outsider is no easy feat. The Kolkata cabbies haven’t a clue nor do most native Kolkatans you ask.

You have to go to a certain bakery on the first floor of the historic New Market bazaar, get a phone number and call it, speak to a certain Jewish woman who’ll give you directions, then you go to the sites and mention her name to the groundskeepers so they know you’re legit, then they let you inside where you must be accompanied by a guide at all times. Suggested donation is 100 rupees (about $2.00).  I jumped through all of these hoops and it was well worth it.

We first step inside the Magen David (slideshow) synagogue built in 1884 and the guide, a slight Indian in his 30′s with a boyish face, sticks a yarmulke on my head. He barely speaks English. I barely speak Bangla. It goes like this: (continue reading…)

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Beth-el Synagogue, Kolkata, built in 1856

by on Jan.31, 2015, under The Truth Is In Here

About half a mile from the Magen David and Neveh Shalome synagogues is Beth-el Synagogue.

Full story here on Kolkata’s handful of remaining Baghdadi Jews. Photos taken January, 2015–>>

(continue reading…)

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Neveh Shalome Synagogue, Kolkata

by on Jan.31, 2015, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

Next door to the Magen David Synagogue is the “Old Synagogue,” official name Neveh Shalome. In 1825 a house was bought on this site and made into Kolkata’s first synagogue. It was demolished and rebuilt as the present one in 1911.

Full story here on Kolkata’s handful of remaining Baghdadi Jews. Photos taken January, 2015–>>

(continue reading…)

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The Magen David Synagogue, Kolkata

by on Jan.30, 2015, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

The Magen David synagogue built in 1884.

The Magen David synagogue built in 1884.

Full accompanying story here on Kolkata’s handful of remaining Baghdadi Jews. Photos taken January, 2015.

Magen David
Magen David
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Magen David main entrance
Magen David main entrance
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Looking up at the ladies' gallery
Looking up at the ladies' gallery
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View from the ladies' gallery
View from the ladies' gallery
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Ladies' gallery
Ladies' gallery
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My Muslim guide
My Muslim guide
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Voices from the Dennison Crypt

by on Jan.24, 2015, under NYC, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

DON’T MISS THE NYC PREMIERE OF JEFFREY STANLEY’S BONEYARDS AT BROOKLYN’S MORBID ANATOMY MUSEUM ON 2/27/15! DETAILS HERE.

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

shaheb – (India; also saheb, sahib; from the Hindi and Urdu sāhab, master; from Arabic ṣāḥib, companion; participle of ṣaḥiba, to become friends) 
1. formerly, a term of respect for any  male landowner
2. formerly, a term of respect for white European men during the British colonial era
3. (modern) any white man
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Assume with me for a minute that ghosts really are, without a doubt, real. The dead really can contact us. EVPs/Raudive voices/ghost box voices are the real deal.  That said, it follows that it’s pointless to try and get any decent EVP’s in a cemetery. Why would ghosts be hanging around  a cemetery full of strangers when they can go back to their still-living families or the places that were near and dear to them in life? Sure, cemeteries can be creepy and I’m not sure I’d enjoy traipsing around in one at night, but really my belief is that they are generally ghost-free.

A still from the background looping slideshow in BONEYARDS.

A still from the background looping slideshow in BONEYARDS.

Unless a particular grave or cemetery is historically believed to be haunted; then, it might be worth a look. Take the notorious Bachelor Grove Cemetery outside of Chicago which I plan to visit in March during my trek on the California Zephyr for my Amtrak Writers Residency. Or the Dennison family crypt in Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery, one of my favorite haunts in West Bengal, India. When I was last there earlier this month I took my trusty P-SB7 spirit box with me, the one I use live onstage in Boneyards, to check it out. (continue reading…)

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“Nightmare”

by on Dec.06, 2014, under NYC, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Press

indiaabroad“Soon after I took a seat all hell broke loose.”  

Har har, I sent a news tip to India Abroad about a debacle in the New York visa office run by Cox & Kings and they instead ran it as a full page piece with the header “Nightmare.” I know some of you will feel my pain.

London-based Cox & Kings is one of the world’s oldest travel agencies and has offices around the world.  Increasingly India and other countries outsource their entire visa application process to companies like this one, with results that are often a Kafkaesque exercise in frustration but on my final visit — it took me a record 4 visits to New York from Philly to get mine and my family’s visas approved — I watched a near-riot ensue.

Obviously there are larger issues in the world to complain about (to wit, this week’s cover story pictured above) but chronic problems with Cox & Kings have been an ongoing saga in this paper, so perhaps my recent tirade will help in some small way with the many thousands of people who travel from the US to India each year.  Here’s to the power of the press.

Full article here>>

To add insult to injury, I got outta there with visa in hand and made the long trek back to Philly, but the next morning they sent me an email telling me my visa was ready and had been Fedexed to me! They even included a tracking number!  I thought maybe it would be one of the many lost passports they’re notorious for but fortunately nothing ever arrived.

 

 

 

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