23 November, 2020

A Stirrup For A Begum

Hazrat Mahal, wife of Wajid Ali Shah, fought the British in 1857. A French journalist brings her little-known story to life.

A Stirrup For A Begum

Apart from her name, everything about Kenize Mourad is unmistakably French: her looks and gestures, her style and temperament, her mannerisms and speech (including her Gallic-accented  English). She had indeed no reason to doubt her quintessentially French origins until she was about twenty. She knew that her mother had died soon after she was born in an upscale Paris maternity clinic and she was given in adoption to a well-to-do French family.

At an early age, Mourad enrolled in a residential school run by Catholic nuns. Like her peers, she not only received a fine education, but was also groomed to observe the etiquette that someone of her class was expected to observe. Families of that class frowned at the slightest hint of rebelliousness in girls, though they were also indulgent towards it after a point. A spirited girl from the upper bourgeoisie could always be trusted to add some spice to an otherwise dull and predictable lifestyle.

Mourad became aware of her connection with spices—authentic ones—in her late teens. Her mother, she learnt,...



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