It’s the early 1990s, I’m sitting in my classroom, Section III C, Bandra, Bombay. It’s noon. Suddenly, there is an announcement over the school intercom and the headmistress informs us that school will be closing for the day. No explanations given. We cheer and clap at this unexpected good news. But then, we see panic across the faces of our teachers, scurrying around to ensure that we don’t wander outside. I remember very clearly the events that follow – harried parents coming to pick up their children, rushing out to get home safely, me wondering when my parents will come along and then being pleased to see my best friend’s mother who leads me and my friend to her car. We then drive along chaotic roads where shopkeepers are shutting shop, a mob is pelting stones at a bus, and people are running amok. We are safely home but then how secure are we really? Yes, we are in the midst of a city torn by communal riots between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists.
Although ‘The Black Taj’ is not based in Bombay, it brought back these rather painful memories as it has its core, the implications of religious differences on the Indian diaspora. It reiterates extremely well how politicians abuse religious sentiments to acquire vote banks. It tells us how love has boundaries of religion, caste and class. However, it is not all tragic. The book gives the reader insight into the strength of the human spirit and how despite all odds, it survives. Bruised, yes; but always hopeful.
Mohini Kent is a charismatic story teller as evidenced in the plot and character development. In Simi, we have a protagonist who knows her mind and is not afraid to challenge the various obstacles that she is faced with as she attempts to pursue her love for Dr Imran Chaudhury. Gogu and Devi are her parents - the prototypical Indian educated upper middle class, who freely embrace notions of secularism and liberation. Would they be as liberal when their own daughter wants to marry outside the Hindu religion? How would Simi’s grandmother who is still deeply affected by the impact of the partition of 1947 cope with it all? Apart from these main characters, we have a few others who serve as a ‘supporting cast’ and make the story very stimulating.
Mohini Kent’s writing is powerful. The story is fast paced and the manner in which each chapter comes to a close filled me with curiosity. I had to read the next chapter and the next. It was no wonder then that I finished the book in a couple of sittings!