The International Literary Quarterly

February 2009


Donald Adamson
Robert Appelbaum
Rosemary Ashton
Sujata Bhatt
Stephen Burt
Rita Dove
Elaine Feinstein
Sophie Judah
John Kinsella
Ron Padgett
Pascale Petit
David Plante
David Shields
Susan Stewart
John Thieme

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Consulting Editor: Marjorie Agosín
Consulting Editor: Richard Berengarten
Consulting Editor: Jill Dawson
Consulting Editor: Denise Duhamel
Consulting Editor: Marilyn Gaull
Consulting Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Consulting Editor: Mimi Khalvati
Consulting Editor: Suzanne Jill Levine
Consulting Editor: Margot Livesey
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor:
Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Issue 6 Guest Artist: Anthony Whishaw

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Luxury and Necessity  by Sophie Judah  

Ronnen waited at the railway station for his aunt's arrival with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. He had been warned that she would try and brainwash him about emigrating from India to Israel. "She will try and force her opinion down everybody's throats," his father had said, "but we know what is right for us. We have attained a luxurious lifestyle here after years of hard work. Why should we give it all up?" Ronnen's mother pursed her lips but she nodded in agreement.

"Betty," his mother shouted and she waved her handkerchief high above her head. A small woman in a blue dress waved back. Ronnen wondered why his parents felt threatened by such a frail-looking creature. The ayah had been made to clean and polish for days to make the house sparkle.  His parents hoped to impress Aunt Betty and if possible make her regret having left the beautiful 'hill-station' of Simla for a desert town called Dimona in Israel.  "They have just the bare necessities," his father had said, "and they come here and try to preach to us."

For the next few days Ronnen listened carefully to every word his aunt uttered but found no propaganda for Israel in anything she said.  She seemed to have taken an oath not to upset her relatives.  The only strange thing was that she did not allow the maid to wash her underclothes although she did let her do the rest of the laundry.  She polished her shoes herself too.  She did not put on airs, as he had expected her to.  She ate rice and curry with her fingers, her Hindi was unaccented and grammatically correct.  It was as though she had never been away.  She shopped for articles like glass bangles and brass-ware that were either unavailable or expensive in Israel   Ronnen thought that she was no different from any other Indian lady.

On Friday his mother took care to have everything perfect for the Shabbat.  His father had taken the unusual step of giving the servants the day off on Saturday so that 'that woman' would not find anything wrong with their lifestyle.  Betty said nothing about the prayers which seemed unusually long to Ronnen.   She just sang all the Friday songs without noticing that the children did not know the words.  She taught them new tunes and enjoyed the meal.  There was no meat in the house as long as she was there since she observed strict kashrut.  Delicious river-fish, cooked in coconut juice was served along with white rice, vegetables and salads.  Betty seemed happy.  She said that the meal reminded her of her mother's cooking.

Everything would have ended well if Mr. Koletkar had not died.  The man was over eighty years old and had been ailing for some time.  One of his sons lived in Delhi and the other was an Army Officer stationed in Jodhpur at the time.  Mr. Koletkar lived with his daughter who had married a Hindu businessman.  Aunt Betty visited him at least once a week claiming that she knew him from childhood and that her visits brought him some measure of joy.

Mr. Koletkar's sons were informed about the death.  Ronnen's family, being the only other Jewish family in town made all the arrangements.  His mother and Betty sewed the burial clothes while his father bathed and dressed the body.  Everything was ready before the sons arrived next day.

"We have decided on a cremation," Charlie, the elder son said.

"What!" Betty exploded.

"We want to cremate the body," Ellis, the younger son repeated.

"Why?" Betty demanded.

"We have no time for all the ceremonies that a burial entails.  Also, we do not have enough leave.  We have our jobs to consider and have to return to work.”

Betty lost control of her temper and her language.  "What utter bullshit!" she said.  "I grew up in this country and know that the Indian Army gives its officers two months Annual Leave and one month of Casual Leave.  And you are entitled to Compassionate Leave in case of family troubles.  Feed this rubbish to somebody else."

"Don't judge us without knowing our situation," Charlie said before Ellis could react.  "There's no Jewish cemetery here.   There's no minyan either."   

"You are doing things for your own convenience.  You have two grown sons each.  That makes four men and you could always have got somebody from Delhi.  There never was a Jewish cemetery in Simla.  We always took the body to Delhi for burial."

"He is right, Betty," Ronnen's mother said in an attempt to make peace.  The cemetery in Delhi is almost full.  There isn't place enough.  They won't accept outsiders."

"If you really want a Jewish funeral you can bury him in his own garden."

"We'd never be able to sell the property if there's a grave in it," Charlie said.

"Ah!  So it is yourselves, not the dead person you are thinking about."

"Don't be ridiculous," Ellis said.  "It was daddy's wish.  He didn't want to trouble us with all the ceremonies."

"That's unimportant.  After a death it's the duty of the community to do the proper Jewish thing.  He has no right on his body after his soul has left.  This may sound ridiculous to you, but you didn't ask your sons before you circumcised them.  That was your duty as a Jewish father despite the fact that the body wasn't yours.  Now do your duty as a Jewish son towards your father."

Charlie became angry.  "Don't teach us our duty.  We'll do what we want," he said.

"Yes, but I, as a self-respecting Jew, won't have a part in it.  When I face my Maker I don't want this on my conscience."  She rose and left.  

The brothers took their father's body to the crematorium.  Ronnen's mother left when Charlie tried to read the Jewish service at a non-Jewish funeral.  When she came home she found her sister packing.

"Leaving?" she asked.

"I've had enough of your luxurious lifestyle and wish to return to my life of basic necessities, one in which the children know who they are and what is important."  She turned to her sister.  "Believe me when I say that although our children serve in the army and that there is no peace in the region, it is a price we pay willingly because we know what we are defending.  No luxury can justify losing your faith or identity as a people."

Ronnen saw his mother nod in agreement and wondered whether she would nod and agree once again when his father accused his aunt of 'forcing her opinion down other people's throats.'