Slivers of history


Once a journalist need not always be one. But the fingers just refuse to stay away from the keyboard. So the only way out is to give it a different direction and pepper facts with fanciful elements. Well, that’s precisely what scribe-turned-author Kenizé Mourad has done In the City of Gold and Silver, her latest exploit on the writing block.

Kenizé has a soft spot for the eras past and has royal roots herself — her mother is an Ottaman princess (grand daughter of the last Sultan Mourad V of Turkey and of an Indian raja). Given her Muslim name, was it difficult to gain acceptance in the Western world which still endorses myopic notions about the largest continent and is racist to some degree? “Not very tough I must say as I look pretty much French, thanks to my blonde looks,” she smiles, only to add after a pregnant pause, “But since my name bears an Islamic connect, it often invites reactions which end on the uncomfortable side, more so in the aftermath of the disaster-date called 9/11. See, my work as a journalist and as a writer has always been to thwart these prejudices and explain to the foreign terrain, which is my adoptive land, that the root and reality of my cradle lies in the Middle-eastern cauldron as well as in the Indian subcontinent. So there can be no ambiguity about it.”
Currently shuttling between France and Turkey on work, Kenizé stays in Paris for most part of the year.
Set in India during the 19th century era when the all-powerful British East India Company reigned over the nation, In the City of Gold and Silver fictionalises India’s First War of Independence led by the indomitable and charismatic Begum Hazrat Mahal. Recently released by Full Circle, the book takes the reader on a captivating journey and growth of the begum — tracing her impoverished childhood as the young Muhammadi and how she catches the fancy of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the King of Awadh, as a courtesan and eventually becomes his fourth wife.
Though not directly related to the Awadh dynasty, Kenizé traces a link. “My father was a familial descendant of the Rajahs of Kotwara, situated in the north of Lucknow,” she reveals.
“I got a lot of inside information from Begum Sahiba’s great grandson Prince Anjoum, whom I had met at my father’s residence in Lucknow, way back in the 1970s. Besides, I had collected a trove of verbal material via the ancient legacy of oral traditions and folklore handed down by the old families in Lucknow, whose ancestors had fought a slew of battles alongside the begum,” she divulges.
With a knack for period pieces and royal chronicles, Kenizé had recounted the legend of her own family earlier in her novel, Regards from the Dead Princess: Novel of a Life (1989). “Yes, I did narrate a host of sagas in the past which had stemmed from the core of my nearest kith and kin’s genealogy. And genre-wise, the titles were primarily historical, steeped in intense autobiographical accounts. For instance, I had run a novel through the life of my mother, who was in turn, the granddaughter of the Ottoman Sultan, with a view to describe the end of the Turkish Ottoman Empire,” she explains.
The tome was included in the course curriculum of Harvard University in its section on Middle East Studies.

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