Jefe's House

Tag: kolkata

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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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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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

Built in 1884.  Full story here on Kolkata’s handful of remaining Baghdadi Jews. Photos taken January, 2015.–>>

(continue reading…)

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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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Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith

by on May.15, 2013, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Press, The Truth Is In Here

May15, 2013

On Faith

Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith

Walking a mile in another man’s shoes leads to kismet.

by Jeffrey Stanley

Three years ago I got married to my wife Bidisha in a traditional Bengali ceremony in Kolkata and spent three weeks touring the country. I bought a pair of sandals there which I wore throughout my trip and back home here in the States. This December my wife, our young son and I went back to India for a month to visit relatives. I brought my well-worn “India sandals” with me.  A week into the visit they broke irreparably and I tossed them. The location of their demise seemed appropriate — from India they had come and to India they would return. The next day while we were out sightseeing we stumbled upon a tiny shoe store, one of a zillion in Kolkata, where I found the perfect pair of replacement sandals. They were simple but unique enough that they suited me as a souvenir.

Nakhoda Masjid. Kolkata, West Bengal, India. January, 2013.

A few days later I struck out on my own to visit Nakhoda Masjid, the largest mosque in Kolkata, built in 1926. A billboard told me with no intended irony that this was Road Safety Week in India. Still the taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedestrians were up to their usual danse macabre.

After a requisite insane cab ride and a short walk down a crowded, narrow street full of screaming sidewalk merchants selling Muslim prayer rugs and other Islam-themed souvenirs I found the mosque. It was sparsely populated at that late morning hour. The (continue reading…)

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The Absolutely Breathtaking Nakhoda Masjid

by on Feb.20, 2013, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

[10/31/13 - Supernatural Skeptics Don’t Know What They’re Missing.  “I try contacting the spirit world before live audiences to keep an element of hope simmering on the back burner of my mind.” - read Jeffrey Stanley’s latest in the Washington Post]

These photos were taken mid-morning between prayers so the place was nearly empty. January, 2013. Please also enjoy my related 5/15/13 Washington Post article about my otherworldly encounter with Allah just after I took these photos,Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith”.

"Nakhoka Masjid" sign in Arabic outside main entrance.
"Nakhoka Masjid" sign in Arabic outside main entrance.
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Prayer clocks
Prayer clocks
Muslim prayer times. Right to left it's the Fajar (dawn prayer), Zohar (midday prayer) Asar (afternoon prayer), Magrib (sunset prayer) and Esha (nighttime prayer). The last one, Juma, is the Friday prayer.
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Inlaid marble floors
Inlaid marble floors
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1st floor courtyard and covered reflecting pools
1st floor courtyard and covered reflecting pools
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2nd floor
2nd floor
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View from the 4th floor of Rabindra Sarani Street that runs alongside the mosque.
View from the 4th floor of Rabindra Sarani Street that runs alongside the mosque.
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A distant worshipper on the 3rd floor
A distant worshipper on the 3rd floor
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3rd floor; dig the ornate lattice work.
3rd floor; dig the ornate lattice work.
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Stained glass
Stained glass
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4th floor
4th floor
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Covered reflecting pools in 1st floor courtyard
Covered reflecting pools in 1st floor courtyard
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Main entrance on Zakaria Street
Main entrance on Zakaria Street
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Mosque kitty
Mosque kitty
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I Heart Paan

by on Dec.01, 2010, under NYC, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Press

I heart paan

I bought tobacco paan from this walla near the Belur Math monastery along the banks of the Ganges in West Bengal, India.

This week’s New York Press, “New York’s Plummy Weekly Newspaper,” cover story is my monologue thinly disguised as an essay, ‘Confessions of a White, Middle-Aged Paan Eater’, the title a loose parody of Thomas de Quincey’s scandalous 1821 memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

Enjoy the article, go to your nearest Indian grocer and enjoy some meeta paan, and if you’re craving more dope on the delicacy here’s a short clip of me ordering it from a paan walla just across from the ancient Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Bhubaneswar, the capital of the state of Orissa in eastern India, this past January (footage courtesy of documentary filmmaker David Gaynes).


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And the article…

Confessions of a White, Middle-Aged Paan Eater

JEFFREY STANLEY is addicted to what may arguably be India’s most disgusting export

I pull my hat low as I pound the rain-slicked sidewalks of Curry Hill around noon on a frigid November weekday. I look about furtively as I walk up Lexington, stopping outside of a DVD shop before I dart inside. There I meet my sugar man, a Punjabi who only goes by the nom de commerce Arora.  By now I know his real name, but he likes to go by the one-word moniker.  I’m happy to…CONT’D>>

[IHeartPaan logo, paan walla photo and video are property of me. Logo via nypress.com]

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News Flash: Theatre Really Can Change Lives

by on Oct.07, 2010, under Politics, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Despite my deep passion for theatre I’ve often quoted the cynical aphorism, Theatre changes nothing, but at least it changes that, and I have believed it to be true.

I stand corrected thanks to the new book, Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre by Jonathan Shailor (Kingsley Press, 2010) about 14 prison theater programs.  The chapter “Drama in the Big House” was penned by my good friend Brent Buell, a director, actor and writer who has volunteered for more than a decade for Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), a division of Prison Communities International, directing plays and teaching acting classes to inmates.  Brent’s locus in the New York State prison system is the original Big House, Sing Sing state penitentiary in Ossining, NY.

I first met Brent in 2004 through our mutual friend David Gaynes and took my first trip via Metro-North train from Manhattan,  zooming along the Hudson to the Big House to see the inmates’ production of Breakin’ the Mummy’s Code, a farce written and directed by Brent (a photo from that production adorns the book’s cover).    I returned the next year to see the bold satire The N Trial, a meditation on the uses of the dreaded “N-word” in our society, including within prison walls, written by inmate Philip Hall, who was wrapping up a 20 year sentence.

Such productions of a full-length play performed for the general public have become an annual event at Sing Sing.  The cast and crew are primarily inmates, co-mingled with professional actors and crew who volunteer their time (continue reading…)

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