CHAT Kenize Mourad, who was born to a Turkish mother and had a French upbringing, released her latest novel, In the City of Gold and Silver, recently
“My mother was very beautiful” she says, wistful longing flitting across her luminous eyes. Yet the only memories that Kenize Mourad have of her mother are those gleaned from other people — her mother died in Paris when she was only a year old.
Here in Bangalore, to release her latest novel In the City of Gold and Silver, the author waxes eloquent about her life, her books, her beliefs and the shape of her dreams.
Daughter of an Indian Rajah and a Turkish princess, Kenize Kotwara Hussain’s life is more romantic and mystical than the books that she writes. “When the Ottoman Empire fell in 1918, my mother was exiled to Lebanon and was then married off to an Indian Rajah.” she says.
Their story, however, did not have a happy ending. For a woman who spent her early life in relative freedom, being forced to live behind the restrictive confines of the purdah left her feeling trapped and unhappy. Although she was pregnant, she hid the fact from her husband and persuaded him to allow her to visit Paris, accompanied by a eunuch. She died there and her young daughter ended up being brought up in a French convent. “My first book is based on the life of my mother.” says Kenize.
The nuns were kind to the young girl but they refused to allow her to interact with her father because he was Muslim. “When my father asked for me they hid me from him,” she says. “But I went back and met him in India when I turned 21,” she added, which was also the beginning of her search for her roots. It was here that she began to delve into her roots in an attempt to seek some version of identity.Her second book, Garden of Badalpur is based on her own life. It tells the story of a young girl brought up in France, but goes to back to India to meet her father. However, Lucknow was a conservative society — the lack of freedom soon began to irk her and she went back to France. Kenize went on to become a political journalist and travelled extensively in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Libya, Israel and Gaza strip. Her third book titled, Our Sacred Land: Voices of The Palestine-Israeli Conflict had her talking to ordinary people and understanding how they suffered due to circumstances beyond their control. “To understand the present one must go back into History.” she says.
History has always been something that has fascinated Kenize, especially when it concerns religion. She has done extensive research on Islam and believes that “Islam is a misinterpreted religion only because of extremists who form a small percentage of the Muslim population.Every religion essentially says the same thing, preaches the same values,” she adds.
Her last book, based on the life of Begum Hazrat Mahal tells the story of a young girl of humble origins, who marries the ruler of Awadh and goes on to play a key role in the fight for Indian Independence. “She was the soul of the revolt of 1857 but so little is known about her,” says Kenize.
But how did she get such intricate insights into this courageous woman?
“I first heard about her at my father’s house when I was 21. A very distinguished, but poor gentleman came to visit us. This man was the great grandson of Hazrat Mahal and he spoke about her. I became very interested and years later, decided to tell her story.”
She began talking to aristocratic families in Lucknow whose ancestors had fought alongside this woman. In addition to this, she combed libraries both in India and abroad, hoping to find some documents that would help her write this book.
“Not too much is available,” she admits. “But I came across a series of manuscripts titled Mutiny Papers that was released by the Uttar Pradesh government during the centenary celebrations of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. This contained copies of telegraphs sent by the British in which the Begum is mentioned”
Kenize agrees that she does have a penchant for creating female heroines. “I honestly find them more interesting than men. In fact, I feel sorry for the men of today, especially in the Western world. They do not know where they stand, anymore.”