By Reginald Massey
Mohini Kent, born in Amritsar to Sikh parents, has just published a novel titled Black Taj (Hoperoad Publishing, London. 2016. ISBN978-1-908446-45-9. £12.99) which is set in the turbulent time just after the destruction of the Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh. Hindu -Muslim animosity was running high and the slightest spark could cause communal rioting. Old hatreds were aired and played out every day and it was difficult for even normally liberal people to stir a steady helm. Fanaticism of the worst kind became fashionable with Hindus saying that all Muslims should be deported to Pakistan for wasn’t Pakistan specifically created for Muslims? Hardline Muslims however sneered at the idea. They said that in 1947 they had decided not to migrate to Pakistan since India was their homeland, but if push came to shove they’d create another Pakistan within India itself.
Many Muslim clerics openly advocated that Muslim women must produce large families so that in time Hindu India would simply become Muslim India. Statistics show that this demographic change is taking effect. Kent’s novel of love is written against this dark and forbidding background and it is courageous of her to embark on this endeavour. I doubt that in today’s Bharat this book would ever have been published in India. The main characters are Simi, a high-born Hindu girl of the Kshatriya caste and Imran, a handsome and hardworking Muslim doctor who hails from a Nawab’s aristocratic family that had seen better days under the Mughals and then under the British Raj. They are passionately in love but they are playing with fire since they live in a provincial town where both their families are well known.
Kent has first-hand experience of marriage across strict religious boundaries. Her late husband was Gulam Noon who was raised to the British peerage. He, a Bohra Muslim from Mumbai, was a multi-millionaire who was known as Britain’s ‘Curry King’. There was not a trace of communalism in Noon. I knew him quite well. He was staying at the Taj Mahal Hotel when the terrorists attacked. It was he who advised the British government that the radical Imams must be expelled from Britain. He was also a cricket fanatic and never missed a Test Match; his collection of autographed cricket bats from the likes of Tendulkar was amazing.
Kent’s novel is therefore written with intimate first-hand knowledge. Some of the passages are very poetic. Incidentally, the title Black Taj is a metaphor of opposites. Shahjehan, it is claimed, wanted to build a Black Taj Mahal on the other side of the Yamuna river but by that time he himself was a prisoner in the Agra fort. He spent his last days looking longingly at the White Taj Mahal.
After many ups and downs and evil encounters, perpetrated by both Hindus and Muslims (for the guilt lies everywhere) Imran and Simi get married. But I wait for a follow-up novel which will tell me how this inter-religious marriage worked out. The marriage of the cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (‘The Tiger’) with the actress Sharmila Tagore worked well and successfully. I therefore hope that Lady Noon’s Simi and Imran will be happy in Bharat Varsh. I await the follow-up novel.
Reginald Massey has been writing a regular Book Page for CONFLUENCE for years. His poetry and prose on a variety of subjects have been widely published. Most of his books are available from Amazon UK.