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.

Like her grandmother Sara, she loved to dress up in her uniform and feel powerful.

Ilana’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.

Ilana never smiled, unless there was a good reason.

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?’ She smiled back enigmatically.

They took an autorickshaw from the gates of Shalom India Housing Society. Ilana gave instructions to the driver. The coffee shop was far, but she assured Amos that it was cosy. Halfway, before they had reached the café, Amos suddenly felt hungry. It was past 6 in the evening but not really dinnertime. Ilana did not remind him that he had just eaten biscuits at her place. She started having doubts about getting married to a man for whom she would have to keep a well-stocked kitchen. She wanted to reject him immediately and return home in that very auto. But she decided to go through with the evening, as Amos was sitting at the edge of the seat of the auto, enjoying the sights of Ahmedabad. She decided to give him a chance. She asked him if he was really hungry or just joking. He nodded. ‘I would like to eat something spicy.’ As the autorickshaw raced through the university area, he spotted a falafel van and asked,‘Can we have falafel?’

She wanted to reject him immediately and return home in that very auto. But she decided to go through with the evening, as Amos was sitting at the edge of the seat of the auto, enjoying the sights of Ahmedabad.

‘It is not Israeli falafel, but Gujarati.’

‘That’s fine with me.’

So they stopped, paid the auto, stood there and ate falafel. It was just a wrap with a filling of vegetables and hummus, but he liked it. He also made a pact with Ilana that he would pay the autorickshaw fare and for whatever he ate that evening. Ilana was amused and asked if they could go ahead and have coffee. He agreed. So they took another auto and went on towards the café. There, Amos chose to sit at a road-facing glass window and ordered cappuccino for himself, while Ilana decided to have green tea. She got the feeling that he was not particularly interested in her. She assumed that maybe he too was going through the evening just to please his aunt. They sat there for almost an hour, chatting about their work, when he suddenly changed the topic and asked, ‘What sort of cakes do they have here?’

‘They have ordinary cakes. Are you hungry again?’

‘Yes.’

Ilana was relieved. She assumed that the alliance would not come through—Amos was only interested in food, not her. They laughed and joked like old friends. There was nothing romantic about their outing, but they were enjoying themselves.

There was nothing romantic about their outing, but they were enjoying themselves.

Amos’s mood was infectious and Ilana offered to take him to a restaurant where they served the best dark chocolate cakes. She hesitated, as it was getting late and the restaurant was far away, but Amos was game as long as he could have cake. They stopped another auto, but when they were on their way to the cake shop, Amos noticed a Lebanese restaurant and insisted that they stop there and try out a real falafel. Ilana was feeling as exhilarated as Amos and agreed to stop at the restaurant, joking, ‘Okay, let us say this is a dinner date of sorts.’

The falafel was better than the roadside one and for the first time in the evening, they talked about their likes and dislikes. This conversation made Ilana uncomfortable but Amos smiled broadly, and to put her at ease, said, ‘You are fun.’

Ilana’s face tightened. She replied, ‘I am not. I am a very serious police officer. Now shall we go home?’

Amos immediately became cautious, stood up, saluted her as though he was her subordinate and apologized. ‘Sorry, officer, I rarely have time to go out or enjoy myself. As you wish, madam, I am ready to go back.’

Ilana realized that she had punctured his mood and feeling annoyed with herself, suddenly smiled graciously. She decided to end the evening on a pleasant note and asked, ‘Now what else would you like to eat, Mr Officer?’

‘How about that special chocolate cake, please?’

Like two giddy teenagers, they found one more auto. When they reached the cake shop, she ordered one huge chocolate pastry nown as ‘Hot Lava’. With two spoons and the pastry, dripping with hot chocolate sauce, placed between them, they ate, laughed and talked about everything but the marriage proposal.

It was almost midnight when they returned, as they had had to walk a long distance to find another autorickshaw. At the gates of Shalom India Housing Society, they stopped laughing, as Ilana wanted to maintain her strict demeanour. She nodded, gave him a tight smile and went to the elevator which took her to A-105 while Amos rang the doorbell of Aunt Salome’s apartment on the ground floor.

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.

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.

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.

Extracted from Bombay Brides by Esther David published by HarperCollins India. Rs 499, 216 pp.

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