Reviews – Bombay Brides

FIRST POST – Review by Shikha Kumar (2019)

In the late 50s, Esther David was in Mumbai for a cousin’s wedding when she discovered a housing society in Jacob Circle, where a lot of Jews lived. Born and brought up in a house in Ahmedabad, she was intrigued by this concept – members of her community living in different apartments in the same complex. Over five decades later, in 2012, she was in the city again when she stumbled upon another such housing society, near a synagogue in Thane. Given their diminishing numbers – many Indian Jews had immigrated to Israel and other countries in the decades since – the society stood for a wonderful sense of preservation.

A similar housing society forms the base of ‘Bombay Brides,’ David’s latest work. The novel takes us into ‘Shalom India Housing Society,’ a fictional complex in Ahmedabad inhabited primarily by members of the Jewish community….Through interlinked stories, we’re introduced to a host of characters like Ezra, the building secretary; Salome, the caretaker; Sharon, a music teacher, and the various tenants who move in and out of A-107, an apartment owned by Juliet and Romiel (Rahul) a Jewish-Hindu couple who get married and move to Israel. David decided to place the society in Ahmedabad, as it’s a city she knows best….A common thread running through many of the stories is marriage – as members of the society get together to match-make, with some moving to and from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, Alibaug, Panvel and Pen…. “In the 1850s, a lot of young Jewish men moved from Alibaug to Ahmedabad, as part of the British services. And when it was time for them to get married, they started looking for brides in Bombay. Soon Jewish women from Bombay were moving to Ahmedabad. Today, many Jewish women in Ahmedabad are from Bombay,” says David, over a phone interview from Ahmedabad. ‘Bombay Brides’ takes an evocative look at the rites, rituals and traditions of the Bene Israel Jews….. “Prophet Elijah is a relatively new entry in my life… since the last 15 years…It’s believed that he used to be in Haifa, Israel and on his way to heaven, he passed through India, leaving a mark on a rock in Alibaug”

It’s the women’s stories in ‘Bombay Brides’ that draw you in – there’s Myra, who arrives in Ahmedabad on an American programme of Torah studies, and later becomes Maa Myramayi after meeting a guru at a yoga centre… Golda, a talented musician, leaves her controlling husband Moses when he tries to raise his hand on her for singing in public…On her travels to Israel, France, and certain southern and north-east Indian cities, the author interacted with scores of Jewish women. “I’m always on the side of the women. I structured the stories around the human condition… how difficult it’s getting for women to try to keep a profession. They’re all highly educated – music and education are a big part of Jewish upbringing – but the rituals and traditions are quite strict,” she says. “In fact, with any religion, it’s the women who preserve traditions. How do they cope? With every character, I created a situation where I have tried to solve some such problem.” Every chapter begins with an illustration of the character, sketched by David. The windows; the women are peeking out of on the cover are also illustrated by her and inspired from the many synagogues she has seen over the years…It was only when she was well into her 40s that her interest in Indian Jewish traditions developed. This stemmed from a need to understand herself better, and make sense of the insider-outsider conflict. “India is the only country where Jews were never persecuted. We have the freedom to practice our religion. How do you maintain that balance of being Jewish in India?” She was 50 when her first novel, ‘The Walled City,’ was published. It was a chronicle of three generations of Jewish women in Ahmedabad, set after Independence. “I was not sure if it would work, but it did. And suddenly there was an explosion when it was translated into French, and I was introduced to a lot of people. That I came from Ahmedabad was surprising, as most people thought Jews are in Bombay. I realized that very few Indian Jews had written about their community, the little there was by foreign Jews.” Nissim Ezekiel, the late ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’-winning poet, also a Bene Israel Jew, was David’s role model….”We live in the land of four million gods and goddesses and yet, retain our identity.” On the outside, they’re often mistaken for Maharashtrians… “But the minute we enter a synagogue, we cover our hair, men wear the ‘kippah’ and we say our prayers in Hebrew,” which she terms as the “Jewish secret life.”


WOMENS WEB – Bombay Brides (2019)

When Juliet and Romiel get married and relocate to Israel, they rent out their Apartment 107 in Ahmedabad’s ‘Shalom India Housing Society’ to Jews. Each character that inhabits the house has a story to tell: about run-ins with the other residents, the diminishing community of Jews, cross-cultural conflicts, and the difficulty of choosing between India and Israel. Prophet Elijah, whom the Bene Israel Jews of western India believe in, plays an important role in their lives, appearing at critical or amusing moments and wreaking havoc with his mischief, but ensuring that ultimately peace prevails. This book was titled‘ Bombay Brides’ as most Jewish men of Ahmedabad are married to women from Mumbai… drawn from Jewish homes in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kochi, Kolkata and Alibaug. This stories are about home, heritage, rites, rituals, roots and what it means to be one of the last surviving members of a community in a vast multi-cultural country like India.



Esther David’s “Bombay Brides” talks about what it means to be one of the last surviving members of a community in a multicultural country like India. An extract: “Ilana had trained as a police officer. Since then, she had decided that Jewish suitors were not for her. She felt that she was stronger than most men. Whenever she agreed to meet a suitor to respect her parents’ feelings, she was certain that he would not be good enough for her. With hard work, Ilana had risen to the post of deputy superintendent of police and wanted a husband to match her education and status. Being a policewoman was part of her family tradition. She had grown up listening to stories of her powerful grandmother Sara, who had been the superintendent of Sabarmati Jail. She had been honoured with the President’s Medal for prison reforms. And Aunt Rose held pride of place in the family, as she had trained as a policewoman in Israel after she lost her husband in a shootout. With such a background, Ilana was looking for a person who could stand shoulder to shoulder with her in the long journey of life. She was doubly careful, as she did not want to be burdened with a man who did not respect her achievements. Past thirty, she lived a busy but uneventful life with her parents Noah and Leah in A-105 at ‘Shalom India Housing Society.’ Like her grandmother Sara, she loved to dress up in her uniform and feel powerful. She had a room to herself in her parents’ home. A police jeep was at her disposal, which she never used for personal work, only official duties. Lana’s life changed when she received a marriage proposal from Amos. He was Salome’s nephew from Mumbai. He was also a police officer and that was the reason Salome had suggested he meet Ilana. Leah prayed to Prophet Elijah that he play the matchmaker for her beautiful but hot-headed daughter. Although they were both police officers, Amos was fun-loving and different from Ilana. So Salome had her doubts that they would get along. Ilana never smiled, unless there was a good reason. She was tall, well built, had a square jaw, large black eyes, a small mouth and short hair. Salome had convinced Ilana’s parents that Amos was the perfect match for her. He had the same post as Ilana in Mumbai, and he was also tall and lean and had a pleasant round face. Amos came from Mumbai to meet Ilana. He was staying with Salome, who had informed Noah and Leah about his arrival. So they invited him for tea when Ilana returned from work. They had informed her about the proposal and she had agreed to meet him to please her parents and Aunt Salome, whom she liked because she was simple, large-hearted and had been close to Grandmother Sara. That evening, when Ilana and Amos were introduced, she did not particularly like him. But after Leah had served tea and biscuits, she suggested that they go out to a café. Ilana agreed, as she did not want to sit opposite Amos and her own family all evening. During the outing, she was sure to put him off and refuse the marriage proposal. To gain time, she excused herself, went to her room, took off her uniform, and folded and put it away. She carefully dressed up in a bright pink kurta over black tights, combed her hair in an upward sweep, applied eyeliner, wore brown lipstick and dabbed her favourite perfume behind her ears. When she came out Amos smiled, pointed at her photograph in uniform kept on the mantelpiece and asked, ‘Are you the same person?”……Next morning, when Leah asked Ilana if she would consider Amos as a prospective groom, as he was leaving for Mumbai that evening, Ilana nodded her head in the affirmative, as though it was the most natural thing on earth. Amos smiled when he was told this. He knew he could never have convinced Ilana to accept his proposal had he not taken her café-hopping. That night, Ilana had fallen in love with Amos….When Leah informed Salome about Ilana’s decision, Amos came over to Ilana’s house, smiled and saluted his fiancée with a twinkle in his eyes. Salome rushed down to her apartment and lit a candle for Prophet Elijah, as he smiled down at her.


HINDUSTAN TIMES – Review by Kushalrani Gulab (2019)

Because life is like this only, I started reading Flora, the 13th story in Esther David’s collection ‘Bombay Brides,’ immediately after I returned from my first consultation with a dietician to whom my sister had hauled me with a gun to my head.

Flora, the heroine of this story, is a lovely woman in early middle age: pretty, kind, smart, unequivocally adored by children and instant friend of almost everyone she meets. But she has never had an offer of marriage because she is fat. When she meets Joseph, a jolly, handsome, smart man in early middle age who has also never had an offer of marriage because he is fat, she gets along with him brilliantly. Before long, the matchmakers (or meddlers) of Ahmedabad’s ‘Shalom India Housing Society’ spring into action and next thing Flora and Joseph know, they are engaged to be married.

Because life is like this only, I started reading Flora, the 13th story in Esther David’s collection ‘Bombay Brides,’ immediately after I returned from my first consultation with a dietician to whom my sister had hauled me with a gun to my head.

Flora, the heroine of this story, is a lovely woman in early middle age: pretty, kind, smart, unequivocally adored by children and instant friend of almost everyone she meets. But she has never had an offer of marriage because she is fat. When she meets Joseph, a jolly, handsome, smart man in early middle age who has also never had an offer of marriage because he is fat, she gets along with him brilliantly. Before long, the matchmakers (or meddlers) of Ahmedabad’s Shalom India Housing Society spring into action and next thing Flora and Joseph know, they are engaged to be married.

The matchmakers (or meddlers) then make a massive mistake. They insist that Flora loses weight so she’ll be a pretty bride. As she gets slimmer, Joseph begins to think he must be slimmer too, to deserve this beautiful woman by his side. And after they marry, their focus on their looks drives the couple apart. Joseph begins an affair, Flora leaves him though she is pregnant, and they only get together again when Joseph arrives for the baby’s naming ceremony, now clearly too distraught and unhappy without Flora to care about his weight. Yes, they are both stout again, and now they together again and happy.

I don’t suppose my sister will accept this story as evidence that my first consultation with the dietician should be my last since I never wanted to marry even when I was slim. But Flora is just one example of the kind of charming story David has put together in Bombay Brides and it can certainly be used as evidence that you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Of course, the story of Flora is not as simple as the author has made it appear. When you read the actual story rather than the summary I have presented you with, you will understand there’s more to Flora and Joseph’s relationship than the way they look. That’s what you’ll find in every story in ‘Bombay Brides’ – David’s writing is so simple that we almost miss the complexities behind her tales. She presents her stories the way our mothers and teachers told us stories when we were very young and had no idea we were imbibing ethics and world views and perspectives along with mischievous rabbits, wild adventures and endless fun. This is why her books feel so comforting, when actually they are not. ‘Bombay Brides’ strings together the different stories of some of the people who temporarily inhabit or pass through the ‘Shalom India Housing Society’ in Ahmedabad. The title, David explains, is based on the fact that many of the brides who arrive and depart from this complex are from Bombay or thereabout since the Bene Israel community, to which most of the characters belong, is very small in Gujarat. The stories all have women’s names as titles, but each is just as much about the people who live among these women as about the women themselves. Some stories are sweet and have happy endings, some are rather melancholy, some downright tragic, and some uplifting. All the stories are about ordinary events: the woman police officer who believes that in keeping with her position, she should always be serious, the singer whose parents marry her to the man who’ll ignore her one physical flaw as long as she never sings again, the widow who meets the man who was her first love and hopes he will now be her last love – none of these stories are out of the ordinary. Even their resolutions are what you expect; there are no twists in these tales. But the sense of comfort they give their readers makes them pleasing. What I loved the most about this book however is David’s depictions of the lives of the Bene Israel community in India. This is a very old community, as much a part of the culture of India’s upper western coastline as any other community in terms of looks, lifestyles and lusciousness of food. David may or may not have intended it when she collected these stories in a book, but to me reading ‘Bombay Brides’ in this period of communal divisiveness that India is going through, the book is a shining example of hope for the country all over again. The Jews of India may be a tiny minority, getting smaller with every flight that departs India for Israel, but they’re just as Indian as everyone who was born, lives, and works here. For that alone I would read this book. That the stories are charming as well is simply the silver topping on the ‘gulab jamun.’


Bombay Brides –2019 – Review

Esther David’s Bombay Brides showcases the fictional life of Jewish women living in Ahmedabad. It’s a Bollywood love story. Jewish Juliet falls for the Hindu Rahul Abhiram at a catering school in Ahmedabad. The families are against the match. Juliet is sent to Israel, but Rahul follows her there. They return to Bombay, get married and move to Ahmedabad. Though furious, the families now accept them.  The couple is not the lead in a film, but is the main character in Bombay Brides, the new book by ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ winner, Esther David. Known for her writings on the Jewish experience in India, David sets her stories in Ahmedabad. Bombay Brides is set in the fictional ‘Shalom India Housing Society.’ In this book, newlyweds Romiel-Rahul and Juliet-Priya buy an apartment in the society, then leave for Israel and rent it to a series of Jewish tenants. Each chapter talks about one Bombay-bride – for that is where most Jewish men in Ahmedabad found their wives. Though the stories are about Jewish women, their problems are familiar, unfaithful and violent husbands, women treated as servants, their lives stifled and bound by convention and their innocence used against them. These stories if ongoing are of the romantic nature but also for a better life. David captures their struggle for an identity and their search for home; in prose that is simple but evocative.


THE INDIAN EXPRESS – Review by Alaka Sahni (2019)

Esther David pieces together a picture of the Bene Israel Jewish community like India – It’s a balancing act to retain the Jewish ethos in a multicultural country like India.” In her latest book ‘Bombay Brides’ Harper Collins, Jewish author-artist Esther David 73, strings together 18 stories of love and loss set in a flat in a housing society in Ahmedabad that is rented out to tenants from the Bene Israel Jewish community by a young Jewish couple who has moved to Israel. Through these fictional and quirky accounts; David won the 2010 ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ for ‘Book of Rachel,’ describes what it means to be the last members of a diminishing community.

David says,” the characters came to me, as I met Indian Jews and their families in Mumbai, Alibaug, Kochi, Kolkata and other places. I noticed that most Jewish brides settled in Ahmedabad came from Bombay (now Mumbai), like my grandmother, mother and aunts. Thus my narrative moves from Ahmedabad, Bombay and sometimes onward s to Israel.”


AHMEDABAD MIRROR – Review by Shruti Panicker

  • Love in Flat number 107”

The Jewish festival of lights is a conversation starter; at author Esther David’s cosy home on Gulbai Tekra on Friday afternoon. We are meeting to chat about her newest offering Bombay Brides stories of love and loss in a transit flat. While titles of most of her stories are a giveaway of the story…“The cover itself took six months in the making,” informs the author. The arresting yellow, one of her favourite colours serves as a backdrop to David’s beautiful back and white illustrations of women looking out of different windows…Her novel ‘Bombay Brides’ talks of stories – a Shah Rukh Khanesque tale no less. No doubts then, the two main characters are called Juliet-Priya Abhiram and Romiel-Rahul Abhiram….the story travels constantly changing scenery from Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Alibaug, Israel and back….they buy an apartment in the fictional ‘Shalom India Housing Society’…which then they have to rent out, when they decide to leave for Israel for lucrative jobs. The changing tenants in their apartment 107- are Myra, Ruby, Ilana, Sangita – and their varied stories of love makeup the book. David says, “In my head, this society is situated in the Satellite area…Bombay Brides speaks of the diminishing community of Bene Israel Jews, their sense of loss…their conflict and struggle to preserve their identity in a multi-cultural space like India.

Comments are closed.