When Esther David agreed to an email interview in the times of lockdown, I was delighted. Though we wouldn’t be meeting face to face, I had earlier met and interviewed her many times in Ahmedabad. I remember her trademark large red ‘bindi’ and broad smile, her warmth and hospitality whenever I dropped in. Esther dons many hats – apart from being a writer, she is an artist, sculptor, critic, columnist and illustrator of her books. In this interview, the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2010 reminisces about her adventurous childhood, life growing up in the old city of Ahmedabad, how an artist and art critic became a Writer, Jewish culture and traditions, and much more.
A ‘Wild’ Upbringing
Esther was born into a Bene Israel Jewish family in Ahmedabad on March 17, 1945. Her father, Reuben David, founded the Kamala Nehru Zoological Garden near Kankaria lake in the city. Her mother, Sarah, was a school teacher. Earlier, her father would spend hours in the forests hunting with friends, who belonged to the former royal families of Gujarat. But he laid down his guns when he saw a dying deer and became a wildlife conservationist. narrates Esther: “When my father was creating a zoo on the hillocks around the Kankaria lake of Ahmedabad, each day was full of surprises connected with birds and animals.”
“Even before the zoo happened, my father had kennels and we had a variety of dogs. We had song birds and my father had built a name for himself as a naturalist. When I was five years old, the civic authorities decided to make a zoo around Kankaria lake. As a result, often birds and animals were brought home. once my father brought home a panther cub before he settled him in the zoo! From a young age I developed a love for nature and understood the meaning of wildlife conservation,” she adds. For her it was amazing that her father fearlessly entered enclosures of lions and tigers.
He even conducted an experiment in co-existence – his pet lion, Montu, started living in the same enclosure with Tommy, a dog. And, he would often join them! It was the same with the tiger Raju, an Alsatian, a macaque, and her father, she says. Esther wrote ‘My Father’s Zoo’ as a tribute to her Tarzan-like father. not only was he a champion of wildlife, he was also known as the ‘gentle animal keeper of Ahmedabad’ and a ‘miracle man’ who could walk into the cages of lions and tigers, she says. From a young age, Esther observed how each animal made a home in the zoo. She described these experiences in the book which was subsequently translated into Gujarati.
Childhood in the Old City
Esther was born and raised in the old city of Ahmedabad. What was it like living there? “We lived as a joint family in our ancestral house near Delhi Darwaza, where growing up was like a family feeling. The houses were close to each other, without barriers of caste, and I understood the meaning of communal harmony. The courtyard was the soul of the house. Every evening, friends, relatives and neighbours dropped in and were offered sherbet and snacks,” she reminisces.
It was even better when they had family dinners to celebrate Jewish festivals. They also celebrated Diwali, Eid and Christmas with neighbours. ‘The Walled City’ is the title of her first novel. In fact, she has used this part of Ahmedabad as a backdrop for almost all her novels. As the youngest child in a joint family, and also the only child of working parents, she was taken care of by family members. She did not miss out on siblings though she was an only child. Her uncle’s four children were more than siblings. “My uncle always said he had five children! I was never treated like an only child and shared everything from gifts to chocolates with my cousins,” she says.
The house had a library which was a favourite haunt. She voraciously read all that she was allowed to read, and many books she wasn’t and did not understand, she recollects. The library gave her a heritage. She had three storytellers feeding her imagination – the library, her grandmother who related family stories while she cuddled on her lap, and Mani, the cook, who regaled her with folk tales. She remembers Mani vividly – wrapped in a “sari with the flavour of garlic and a fertile imagination”, as Esther puts it. Then, there was the zoo, song birds and dogs and so she never felt lonely.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Understanding Mutual Funds
In the first part of a series, Sampath Iyer shares information about what a mutual fund is and how it can help your money grow.
‘Hobbies are the Real Stress-Busters'
Mahendra Sarup has been a regular contributor of articles for Dignity Dialogue. In this interaction, he tells us something about himself, likes and dislikes and family.
Get Rid of Toxicity
By clinging on to the past and to your likes and dislikes you make the fountain of joy turn dry, says Jeanette Saldanha.
You Can be a Writer Too!
Writing can be a great hobby or even a profession. Suresh Chandra shares a few tips about how you should go about being a good writer.
Those were the days when photography meant lugging around huge cameras with plates. now, it’s simply a matter of click and share. V Ramasubban goes down memory lane to recall his passion for photography.
Spiritual Laws that Govern our Lives
If we look at the manifest world, as far as our eyes go, thoughts go and science goes, we seem to be all alone on a small and insignificant planet, surrounded by vast spaces, immense celestial objects and frightening cosmic phenomena. We may perhaps never get a full picture of the universe, its multiple dimensions, what it consists of and how much intelligent life it actually holds, says Jayaram V.
The ‘Rural' Revolutionary
From being a super cop with the Haryana police force to a social reformer who has changed a neglected village into a role model, former Director General of Police (DGP) Ranjiv P Dalal’s life has been an enchanting one. Mrigank Bhowmick meets him in his village to find out more.
It's Too Sweet, Honey!
A study has revealed that almost all honey consumed in India is adulterated with sugar syrup.
Counting Sheep Before You Sleep
S H Subrahmanian writes about why seniors tend to have sleeping problems.
Beyond the Sand Dunes
Apart from the known tourist hotspots of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Ajmer and Pushkar are gaining on the popularity charts too. N K Agarwal describes his visit to these two cities.
AMAZON OFFERS ASSIST WITH US COVID-19 VACCINE DISTRIBUTION
Amazon is offering its colossal operations network and advanced technologies to assist President Joe Biden in his vow to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans in his first 100 days in office.
HELP IS ON THE WAY But the world still needs a shot in the arm!
The economic outlook is starting to brighten just about everywhere you look
US BLACKLISTS XIAOMI, CNOOC, SKYRIZON, RAISING HEAT ON CHINA
The U.S. government has blacklisted Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. and China’s third-largest national oil company for alleged military links, heaping pressure on Beijing in President Donald Trump’s last week in office.
STRENGTHEN MENTAL HEALTH BY EMBRACING CULTURE
One in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and adult African Americans are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues compared to the general population.
FOCUS ON Pumpkin
From tiny mini-pumpkins to the giant varieties showcased at fall fairs and festivals, pumpkins are members of the squash family, cousins to varieties like butternut and acorn squash. Like these, pumpkin has a creamy flesh with a core of many seeds.
SIGNS of the SEASON
Cruciferous Vegetables an Important Crop for Florida
Michael Ray Fuljenz
AMERICA’S GOLD EXPERT
AILERON/RUDDER MIXING EXPLAINED
Build good habits now and fly better tomorrow
CALLS TO REOPEN CLASSROOMS GROW AS TEACHERS GET VACCINATED
State leaders around the U.S. are increasingly pushing for schools to reopen this winter — pressuring them, even — as teachers begin to gain access to the vaccine against the raging pandemic.
US SPACE COMMAND SITE TO BE LOCATED IN HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA
The U.S. Air Force announced that the new U.S. Space Command headquarters will be in Huntsville, Alabama, after the state was selected over five others competing for the project, including Colorado, where Space Command is provisionally located.