We all witnessed a bunch of thugs muscle their way in and rough up the hapless producer on the television. Once a narrative enters folklore, it acquires a quasi-religious conviction and is difficult to reason with it. Any attempt to present an interrogatory is looked upon as blasphemy. Something similar seems to have happened with Rani Padmini’s account. Ashoka first read about her beauty and her intellect in my school textbook probably in Class 4. The volume was authored by the most popular historian of the time Ishwari Prasad. The most notable feature there was Prasad’s contention that Padmini was the queen of Raja Bhim Singh! And that is what he went on believing for another few years until he read another textbook where her husband was identified as Raja Rattan Singh. If that was not confusing enough, the eminent British historian James Tod states in his book that Padmini was the wife of a prince called Bhim Singh! In other words, there is not even a consensus as to the name of Padmini’s husband although the Karni Sena (whose scholarship I reject) believe she was Rattan Singh’s wife as do many people in that region. Other historians like Irfan Habib have quoted scholars to state that much of the account that we have about Padmini would not stand historical scrutiny. In this erudite piece, the author raises serious objections about the historical authenticity of Padmini and points out more civil ways of protest than resorting to hooliganism and violence. Here’s a report, exclusively for Different Truths.
“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.” This pearl of wisdom came from George Santayana, one of the most erudite philosophers of our era. I could help recapitulating it when I observe the bizarre reactions to the infamous Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s roughing up, in Jaipur recently (on Friday, Jan 27, at 12:30pm).
We all witnessed a bunch of thugs muscle their way in and rough up the hapless producer on the television. If that was not bad enough, we were treated to a nauseating spectacle of the supposed leader of Karni Sena, an obscure bunch of ignorant hoodlums, who have appointed themselves as the protectors of Rajput honour! All I can say at the present moment is that I would be mortally ashamed if the preservation of my honour was contingent on a bunch of thugs.
And while there is no dispute over their thuggery, the state government of Rajasthan has maintained an unholy silence which does them no credit at all. I would not have graced those undesirable thugs by penning a column on them. But what troubles me most is the very vocal support this form of thuggery has received from even some of the most educated sections of the society including I am embarrassed to say some of my acquaintances who are more than versed with the dictates of the Constitutions and I thought were committed to the principles of decency.
I was sadly mistaken! In many social platforms, I found a few of my acquaintances openly offering unstinting support to what happened in a brazen, unashamed manner. And that leaves me feeling diminished.
Let me get a few issues straight at the outset! The last time I visited a cinema was in 1976 to see the epic movie Sholay. I almost never watch movies even when they are broadcast on the television. And while I had heard of Bhansali’s name, I have not watched any of his movies. A few individuals have remarked that I never took a stand against Owaisi and his A-team when they roughed up Taslima. They are wrong! I wrote two columns on the issue castigating Owaisi for resorting to thuggery when the option of going to the court was available. Plus I took on then state government for allowing this anarchy to take place. That having said, I do not subscribe to the logic that a heinous act is made any less heinous just because another heinous act has gone unpunished. Both the acts were shameful in their own way and the reactions of the supposed intelligentsia do us no credit at all!
Let us look at the details that are available in the public domain. Bhansali is shooting a movie on Padmini a Rajput queen, who is supposed to have committed jauhar (self immolation) along with thousands of other women when Alauddin Khilji conquered Chittor. She is very much a part of Rajput folklore. Acting on a rumour that the film depicted her in an unsavoury light, the constitutionally illiterate thugs took it upon themselves to create a mayhem. And they succeeded!
The most notable point is that nobody has as of now read the script that was being used by the director; they just operated on rumours. And what is more, they brazenly justified their actions as the director ignored to respond to a very insultingly minatory letter that they sent out. Presumably, he considered it beneath his dignity to do so as I might have done.
Imposing penalties upon someone for a crime that has not yet been committed mitigates against all principles of natural justice and fair play. It is tantamount to hanging a person for killing his mother in law just because he possessed a gun even when the poor mother in law was alive! But these loutish individuals seem devoid of even this most elementary logic.
Even more distressing is that their degree-holding supporters ignore this fundamental fact. Moving across to historical orthodoxy! It is commonly accepted that among all ancient civilisations, the poorest record keeping was in India. Unlike the Sumerian, Phoenician and the Egyptian record keeping, a historical interpretation that can stand the test of time, especially when it concerns the ancient or medieval era is fatally straddled by this handicap.
Despite having been elected to the fellowship of the Royal Historical Society, my own historical insights are limited to the history of science and medicine hence I cannot make any statement with the degree of authority expected from an expert. But I do know that when history enters the domain folklore, any depiction that deviates from the presumptions that go with it are bound to create some controversy. A typical example was when an attempt was made to suggest that one of the main reasons Aurangzeb defeated Dara was the unstinting support from Raja Champatrai of Orchha. It created a near furor as Chapatrai was the father of Raja Chhatrasal, a contemporary icon, who along with Shivaji, spent years fighting Aurangzeb, and whose valour has been immortalised by the poet Bhushan. This was notwithstanding that the population of Orchha even today acknowledges that Chapatrai was indeed approached by Aurangzeb, who begged him for support. A fictionalisation of Dara’s life in a novel form by Murad Ali Baig deals with this issue in some detail.
But as they say, once a narrative enters folklore, it acquires a quasi-religious conviction and is difficult to reason with it. Any attempt to present an interrogatory is looked upon as blasphemy. Something similar seems to have happened with Rani Padmini’s account. I personally first read about her beauty and her intellect in my school textbook probably in Class 4. The volume was authored by the most popular historian of the time Ishwari Prasad.
The most notable feature there was Prasad’s contention that Padmini was the queen of Raja Bhim Singh! And that is what I went on believing for another few years until I read another textbook where her husband was identified as Raja Rattan Singh. If that was not confusing enough, the eminent British historian James Tod states in his book that Padmini was the wife of a prince called Bhim Singh! In other words, there is not even a consensus as to the name of Padmini’s husband although the Karni Sena (whose scholarship I reject) believe she was Rattan Singh’s wife as do many people in that region.
Other historians like Irfan Habib have quoted scholars to state that much of the account that we have about Padmini would not stand historical scrutiny. Malik Mohammad Jayasi the eminent poet is credited with the epic, Padmavat that has the most elaborate account of Padmini. But he lived two hundred years after Khilji and there is no independent corroboration from a historical perspective. Having said all this, I do acknowledge that the folklore has deep resonance in the Rajput psyche of that region and is likely to be that way at least for the foreseeable future.
But does that give any community the right to wreak havoc and indulge in constitutional blasphemy the way these morons have! That is the question that we have to ask. Putting aside Bhansali’s disclaimer that his script did not contain any references to the alleged offensive dream sequence, even if one were to argue that it did, we have to remember that before a film is released, the Censor Board scans it. A representation could have been made in this regard. Besides if these people were so sure of their case, they could have approached the courts for a stay. The very fact that they did not to me suggests that they are a bunch of professional anarchists whose sole vocation is to propagate thuggery.
It is a matter of shame for all of us that like several other anarchists that vitiate the ambience in this great nation of ours, they are being given a free run by the powers that be. We have enough contemporary problems on our plates which require our combined efforts. How long would we continue to dwell on rectification of supposed historical wrongs and continue to give them priority! The thought depresses me!
©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
Photos from the internet.
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