Sunday, 17 June 2018

Sutapa Basu’s ‘Padmavati: The Queen Tells Her Own Story’… A review of the book…

Though this novel is in no way connected with the film, for the international reader perhaps, it is necessary to explain the polemic raging against a movie titled, Padmavati, whose release this month has been stalled indefinitely. During the shooting itself, the initial rumblings that the director was taking artistic liberties and distorting history got out of hand when a fringe group of protestors in Rajasthan ran amok, destroying the sets and manhandling the director, cast, and crew. Though the film was completed under police protection, the release was withheld because of the groundswell that the movie was a distortion of history. Specifically, the ire of the Rajputs was against a supposed dream sequence in the movie, fantasized by the blackguard villain, Allauddin Khalji, and involving the heroine and protagonist, Padmavati. It is pertinent to note here that nobody has yet seen the film and the director and cast have refuted ad nauseum about the filming of any such dream sequence. The Hindu sentiment was supposedly slighted and soon assumed political hues. To add to the drama, elections in two states were underway simultaneously as well. There were threats of disruption if the film were to be released; even the lives of the actor and director were threatened. Currently, the fate and release of the film remain a proverbial hot potato with no clarity of when it will see the light of day and visit the theatres.
This review eschews historicity and the strife seems pointless. Rani Padmavati, or more popularly Queen Padmini of Chittor, Rajasthan, was a brave and alluring beauty, who may at best have been an illusion; a historical fiction born out of folklore, perhaps. There appears to be no factual evidence that Padmavati ever existed. She is waxed eloquent in an Awadhi epic by Sufi poet, Malik Mohammad Jayasi, captured in timeless essence in myths, legends, and tales, but without any hard substantiation. Hence Padmavati may have well been the creative liberty of a poet rather than a well-entrenched and accepted character from the rich Indian history. There is, however, adequate data and affirmation that the king of Chittor, Rawal Ratan Singh did exist and that Allauddin Khalji had indeed laid siege at Chittorgarh in the year 1303. This is to set a context for this novel.
The word, ‘Padmavati’, denotes having or holding lotuses. From the rich cover of the book, the pages contain the experience of unpeeling the petals of a lotus as the writer takes the reader on a captivating and plausible journey of Padmavati. From her idyllic upbringing in Singhaldweep to a hard landing in Bharat Desh to become Rawal Ratan Singh’s wife and the queen of Chittorgarh, to the denouement of her tragic end to escape the lust of the villainous Allauddin Khalji, Sutapa’s sketch seems picture perfect. Her command over the English language is deft, delectable and deep as she weaves a wondrous tale narrated by Uma, who is as mysterious as the night shadows shrouding the Chittorgarh Fort, which journalist Mrinalini is visiting.
By seamlessly weaving Uma-Mrinalini’s interaction and the narrative from ostensibly Padma-wali, the queen’s own diary, Sutapa fleshes out the characters in bold and myriad hues, doing justice to each one. Her etchings of those of her friends Ambika, the talking Hiraman parrot Gini and the crafty and evil, Raghav Chetna, need special mention. The cameos played by Prince Gora Rajsinha and his son, Badal, to protect her valor will leave a touching residue in the reader as will the detailed and gut-wrenching sketch of the conflagration of Jauhar or mass suicide of the brave Rajput women.
Sutapa’s research appears thorough as her descriptions bring alive the players in a story that captures the morals of the labour of love, values of valor, and the catastrophe that coveting and carnality could beget in equal measure.
Did Padmavati really exist? Did she write the Padma-wali at all? These imponderables are an exercise in futility; what remains are the many life’s lessons that the trajectory of Padmavati’s passage tells. Between the bridge spanning chimera and reality, Padmavati: The Queen Tells Her Own Story.
                                                                                                                                                                    Edited by:Adam Rizvi

Ashfaq A Khan, after travelling the world, as Chief Engineer (Mercantile Marine) I.MarEST(London), is settled in Lucknow and writes frequently on lifestyle. He is presently writing a book on Awadhi Nautch Culture & the distinguished Cuisine as it was patronized by the various Royal Noble houses of Awadh.

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