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Jan 1, 2011

Esther David

Esther David (March 17, 1945— ) is a Jewish-Indian author, an artist and a sculptor.[1] She was born into a Bene Israel Jewish family in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. [2]
Her father, Reuben David was a hunter-turned-veterinarian, who founded the Kamala Nehru Zoological Garden and Balvatika in the city of Ahmedabad. Her mother Sarah, was a school teacher. [3] As a child she spent a lot of time in the zoo, watching and communicating with the animals her father nurtured there.
After her schooling in Ahmedabad, she joined MS University, Baroda, as a student of Fine Arts and Art History. There she met Sankho Chaudhary, a renouned sculptor, who taught her sculpture and Art History. After her graduation she returned to Ahmedabad and started her career as a professor in art history and art appreciation. She taught at the CEPT University and NIFT. She started writing about art and became the Times of India art critic, a prominent national English daily. Later she became a columnist for Femina, a women’s magazine, the “Times of India” and other leading national dallies.
Her first book, The Walled City was published in 1997 by East West Books, Madras. It is a story about the forces that unite and divide generations and communities in the walled city of Ahmedabad. It was re-published by Syracuse University Press USA and is listed in the library of modern Jewish Literature. Her next book was, ‘By the Sabarmati’, followed by ‘The Book of Esther’, ‘The Book of Rachel’. In August 2007 she wrote her first book for teenagers, titled ‘My Father’s Zoo’. The book was a tribute to her father and contains stories of the animals that lived or still live in the zoo in Ahmedabad.[3] Her latest Book, Shalom India Housing Society was released on November 4, 2007.
A single mother and grandmother of two, she’s now a full time writer she lives in Ahmedabad.


About Esther David by Subashree Krishnaswamy
In the firmament of Indian writing in English, Esther David's voice is like none other. Refusing to be pigeonholed, boldly defying categorisation, Esther remains… well, quintessentially herself. Her writing is much like Dilhi Darwaza, her favourite haunt in Ahmedabad: colourful, irrepressible, bustling with life, zesty, where people from every class jostle for space, where the seamier side of life is unabashedly and unapologetically displayed. Above all, it speaks tellingly of the human condition.
Esther set the tone with her impressive debut, The Walled City, which is set in Ahmedabad, the city of walls. The ingenious title runs like a metaphor throughout the novel, where walls of all kinds exist. Written in the first person, it traces the lives of three generations of a large extended Jewish family, as seen through the eyes of an impressionable a young girl.   The sheer exuberance she sees around her - the gods, the festivities, and the symbols – to which she is irresistibly drawn, is in sharp contrast to her strict, almost spartan upbringing, dictated by her religion. She struggles, she rebels, she fights, she submits, yet never gives up the valiant search to carve her identity. She tries to make sense of a life, torn apart not only by conflicting personal emotions but by a city divided, seething with tension, where old values have crumbled. Yet Ahmedabad remains home, from which she can never escape. Esther brings her artist's sensibility to the novel: no detail escapes her eye, and the imagery is fresh and startling. The characters - the parents, the grandparents, the cousins and old retainers - crowd our minds, refusing to leave, even long after we put the book down. We share the vicissitudes of the protagonist - who tantalizingly remains unnamed – making them our very own, as we wait breathlessly to learn about her fate. The book is well produced, enlivened by Esther's charming sketches.
In her second book, By the Sabarmati , Esther recreates the lives of women who live in the fringes of society, people who we might meet every day, but people who we never notice. An outcome of a project aimed at creating social awareness, it is a plucky effort – not many writers in English are given to writing about people who don't speak English.   Slipping off her shoes, Esther walks barefoot with them, laughing and crying, sharing their joys and sorrows. Investing them with the dignity they deserve, she shares with us their courageous tales, deftly drawing out their creativity in the process.
There is just one word to describe Book of Esther : gutsy. Many an author has been known to borrow extensively from family lore and legend, but not many would admit to doing so. Esther firmly states that the book is loosely based on her family. Deeply personal and unflinchingly honest, she chronicles the lives of a prodigiously talented Jewish family (characters all), sweeping across places, generations and times with a deft and sure hand. It is about discovering a Jewish heritage in an alien ethos, about being a miniscule minority in India, about wanting to belong, yet desperately holding on to one's identity. Sliding effortlessly between fact and fiction, the anecdotes, by turns moving, funny and poignant, flow effortlessly. The novel begins in the nineteenth century, with the redoubtable Bathsheba steering the fortunes of the family, which finally chooses Ahmedabad as home. The descendants inherit the healing teach; but Joshua, defying tradition, chooses to tend to the voiceless, founding the city's first zoo. Esther, sensitive and unusual, shaped by her unusual upbringing, the legacy of which hangs heavy, struggles to find her identity and roots. The journey takes her across continents, to Israel and France, only to find its way back to the nest – Ahmedabad – like a homing pigeon. The impressive novel is not merely a chronicle of a Jewish family; it is the testimony of survivors.
Esther, author, artist and columnist, is a gifted storyteller who steadfastly refuses to compromise to suit the market. She grapples with issues that concern her, and in the process showcases realities that are universal. Reading is a sharing experience, yes, but with Esther readers make a kind of secret bonding, as if she were speaking to them alone.  


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