The Padmavati metanarrative

‘Only strong women give birth to soldiers.’ Says the Spartan Queen in the movie 300. Readings of history and warrior legends show to some extent on  screen and the movie has been praised for its alternative scripting of women in medieval Europe.

‘Come back with your shield or on it.’ She says to her warrior husband leaving for battle. Historical retellings of the vanquished is also visible in the  villianisation of Xerxes, the Persian King.

Closer home, Jodha Akbar was a quietly released,  Bollywood’s successful alternative take on the Hindu-Muslim marriage between a  Muslim emperor and a Rajput princess. No heads rolled, no noses were cut.

Yet neither film is a stranger to controversy. 300 has been accused of racism (banned in Iran) and Jodha Akbar of historical inaccuracies. Both allegations are but standard issue occupational hazards in the retelling business.

Alternative history on film is a powerful format to create a metanarrative founded on deconstructionism. Powered by dissent it’s movement from the margins to the mainstream is foundational to disruption art. Without it cinema and literature would curl up and die. Banning alternative history is banning dissent. It happens only in totalitarian regimes where centres are locked down from its margins.

And then, here’s a scenario.

In the movie 300 what if the Spartan King broke into an item number while he was being decimated by the Persian army? No? Why not? Just to keep the morale of his troops up? What’s wrong with dance?

What if in a Shogun movie a samurai quickly knitted a few sweaters before committing harakiri? As a sentimental parting gift to his sweetheart? No? Maybe just one sweater?

What if Charulata did a Tango in Paris,  in a halter, on skates? Just as a quick pep up for the audience? No? Not even as a dream sequence?

What then would be the genre, the nature of this cinematic beast?  Spoof? Meme? Fantasy? Opera? Operatic fantasy? Fantastic Opera? Calling it a historical film would be an arrogant overreach.

Journalists privileged with private screenings declaim about what a beautiful expression of Rajput pride Padmavati is. Are we supposed to consider this movie review by a news anchor credible, especially when it is amply evident for all to see that the released promo already precludes the possibility of this ‘beautiful expression’?

Bhansali fetishes on competitive dance-offs between two women for the coveted prize, the man. He did it between the characters played by Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai, between Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone, and tried it again in Padmavati’s ghoomar dance sequence. The younger better looking Rani enraptures the King while the older Rani looks sullenly on. Bhansali obviously has no clue about the sorority of Queens. In any case he is very efficient at transforming female characters into courtesans. Padmavati too must become a courtesan at some point in a Bhansali film. As the female lead, it’s mandatory.

The nikasi is a poignant ritual when a Rajput Queen sees the King off to battle. The ceremonial sword is tied to the waist, the safa around the head and the forehead anointed with the goddess’s tilak. Very reminiscent of the Spartan queen handing over the battle shield and helmet when she says ‘come back with your shield, or on it.’

This cannot become a prolonged moment of Bhansali love by any stretch of the imagination. The King and Queen cannot become separating lovers. There can be no Radha Krishna type holi love play between them. She will not darn the King’s safa. It just smacks of Bhansali’s neurosis for clothes and accessories. The King will not wear an embroidered zardozi wedding safa to battle. Again for the same reasons. There will be no tears. She will anoint his forehead with the goddess’s power, that she embodies, that his mother embodies. She will not cast out the Evil Eye like an ayah to a trussed up baba getting ready for an outing. She will not even touch the King’s feet. Because her duty to strengthen his will for battle is as important as going to battle. She will not grovel on her knees like his handmaiden. The nikasi is not a lovesick farewell. It is a powerful woman’s gift of fearlessness to a warrior facing the prospect of death. A Rajput Queen is not a fawning, fasting, weeping wife. The feet touching, the tears, the grand dress up promotional sequence is Bhansali’s indoctrinated sexist spillage of the woman as the sexualised caregiver. It is contra posed to Rajput culture, where a Queen is a symbol of will and strength, of the evil destroying mother goddess. That is why a Rajput Queen will never be seen gyrating out an item number in public. However sensual or artistic she maybe her public image never deviates from the high pedestal of  unimpeachable power to become a sexualised performer on display.

These are very serious mistakes. By creating a regressive Padmavati metanarrative Bhansali has destroyed the inherent feminism of a historical icon.

A film historian’s understanding over reams of columns in the centre page of Times of India this week, comes to alarming conclusions. Jauhar, she says, is a self-immolatory sacrifice, and Mother India unlike Padmavati is a more progressive and powerful ‘space of femininity’. One is lead to conclude that a female icon is defined by sacrifice, and Padmavati lost the race to Mother India.

Mother India is cinema’s biggest victim of an unjust socio economic system.

Padmavati can never be a victim. Mother India fought for the survival of her family. A useless husband and two sons, sweet symbols of patriarchy, it can be argued. Padmavati fought for invincibility, for her emblematic power as a woman.

 But such reductionist readings of feminism in film and history  should not be surprising considering subaltern and gender studies of patriarchy in religion has not reached any level of enquiry in our hallowed universities. Even if they have they never come to light.

Sati was most prevalent among  Brahmanised communities obsessing  over the kacchi kali compulsion. Underage girls were customarily married to much older men. The men would in all eventuality be dead when she reached her prime, making the young woman disposable. This is evident by the geographical footprint of the reform movement in places where sati had to be eradicated.  Sati is a Brahmin’s footprint, followed by other Brahmanised communities. Sati was not customary amongst Rajput royalty. Rajas have been known to marry women even a decade older than them. I know at least two preceding generations of women in Royal families who married way into their twenties to age appropriate and sometimes younger men, unheard of in other communities even today.

Jauhar is not sati committed by women ‘who have no choice to say no to sacrifice or living beyond their husbands who might die in battle,’ like the film historian writes, and many believe.

By definition, if there were any satis,  it was the kesariya bana, the warrior who killed himself in battle after the death of his family.

Jauhar was committed before the men went to battle. So it was the men who were left with no choice. Smeared with the ashes of cremated women, clad in the saffron colours of renunciation, with a tulsi leaf (traditionally placed in a corpse’s mouth before cremation) on their tongue they became the army of the living dead. And they fought till not a single man survived.

What progressive alternative would critics like the film historian propose? Hand the women over to the enemy? Sell them to the highest bidder? It could have been a lucrative prospect considering slave trade was a thriving business then. Figuratively, many in similar dilemmas probably do make this choice.

The villianisation of Khilji too is a problematic nuance. The Rajput fought for his motherland. He did not fight the Muslim. Rajput generals have led armies of Mughal emperors and Muslim generals have led Rajput armies. The Rajput’s war was with an individual enemy not a religion. Because back then, religion was a matter of faith not politics. It is this cohabitation of coalesced histories that has made Rajput and Mughal art, cuisine and culture so indistinguishable from each other.

But Independence saw the birth of a new Hinduism and Islam. Not religions so much as political entities created by the exigencies of a polarising, delimiting, boundary seeking discourse. A discourse that is organically evolving into a right wing extremist narrative more and more difficult to contain.

Yet subaltern voices hark back to a time before Hinduism reinvented itself with Brahmanised versions of patriarchal hegemony and also the patriarchal hegemony of invading religions. A better time shared by Durgavati, Lakshmibai, Bhaumakara queens, Mohammed Jayasi, Gnostics, Sufis and Sahajayana Buddhists. A time that historians have yet to discover. A time when femininity was worshipped as Shakti and chivalry was a code to live by.

‘We are fighting for the power of women.’ An erstwhile Rani says.

‘I cannot raise my hand on a woman.’ A Rajput militant says.

But their voices are lost in the din, drowned in the clamour of  stereotypes of clothes, languages and lifestyles.

Women in hijab are repressed.

Men with moustaches are goons.

Men who speak in Hindi are barbaric.

Hindi speaking men with moustaches are not only barbaric goons, they are contract killers.

Urban, modern, working women are protected from misogyny. This stereotype has been challenged by the #metoo campaign but is still highly functional.

Cinema is the bastion of ‘free expression.’ This stereotype is struggling with Harvey Weinstein but again pretty much still highly functional.

Shrill hectoring newscasters lament the redundancy of Padmavati and spend the next few hours of airtime discussing only Padmavati.

Rajput battle chronologies are being compared to cricket matches, and the score is not good.

First Padmavati didn’t exist, then Khilji didn’t exist, next, Rajputs will cease to exist.

As a hysterical media harangue writes and rewrites Rajput history,  a rare opportunity for a feminist reading is consigned to the dustbins of millennial reductionism.

It’s not helping.


5 Padmavati myths

For all those who say that we should be discussing ‘real issues’ rather than non issues like Padmavati, but still can’t stop spewing derisive verbiage on the Padmavati topic-

First the facts.

1) Sixteen thousand women in the walled city of Chittor burnt themselves to death in a giant pyre. That’s all we really know.

2) Today people of all denomination and abomination are accusing each other of barbarism. The one who speaks in the right accent with the right television channel seems to ‘win’ the debate.

The rest is history.  And while it gets written and rewritten by the man on top, here is what never comes to light.

1. Padmavati was a belief system around the sacred feminine.

An entire city razed itself to the ground not for it’s king, but it’s queen. Get the drift. How many times has that known to happen in world history? Even among Rajput extremists today, she is not a queen, she is a symbol of the Mother. People who have been raised in cultures where mothers are birth giving disposable commodities struggle to comprehend the power of the Great Mother. Therein lies the seed of contention. For Persian mystics,  Jayasi’s immortalisation of Padmavati as ‘the invincible spirit of ‘womanhood’ is the goal of all mystics. In certain swathes of land from Kashmir to Rameshwaram  the Great Mother was worshipped before the prosyletisation of Brahmanism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, the three great Hindu patriarchies. Most Rajput deities are female divinities, like Karni.  Only on rare occasions in history do we see an extant culture evolving around the deification of the feminine.

Padmavati is a muse, not a person.

2. Death before dishonour is some type of honor killing.

No, it’s not. Once upon a time when wars were fought with swords and not tongues, a ‘true’ Rajput boy would be taught by his mother the Rajput code of chivalry. Never raise your hand on a woman. Never disrespect her. Protect her and give your life for her if need be. For a true Rajput does not fear death.

A Rajput fights for his motherland, not his fatherland. It was not just the women who died that day of Jauhar in Chittor, but men too. The Kesari banas, tied the saffron safas of  martyrdom, and died fighting to the last man. Now that’s a cinematic nuance that might challenge Bhansali’s triangulated love formula to a breaking point. The stomach churns at the mid-riff showing unibrowed pirouetting Padmini. Bhansali’s depiction of a Rajput queen so far is an insult to artistic sensibility. A folk dancer in a Rajasthan fair can do better.

3. Jauhar is a type of sati.

No it’s not. Jauhar is the refusal to live a life of indignity, a refusal to be conquered, a refusal to be touched by a man displeasing to you. And your man is willing to die for this too, just so your wish is fulfilled. It is the opposite of sati, well defined as climbing into your husband’s pyre because you can’t live without him. A woman who commits jauhar will not commit sati, because sati establishes patriarchy, jauhar thumbs your nose at it.

Like patriarchy, you find feminism in unlikely places.

4. Feudalism is the same as patriarchy.

No it’s not. Feudalism, in its best practice, is corporate culture without the pink slip. The only difference between feudalism and corporate culture is that in a feudal society you get hired at birth but don’t get fired at death. And the expenditures, from birth to death, marriage ( sometimes many), children (also many) for you and your entire family is paid for.

Few know that in many Royal households the Rani inherited her mother-in-law’s lands and properties, and no one, not the Queen Mother nor the King could take it away from her. No scope for a dowry death there.

The Ranis of the hoary past, from the private confines of the zenana ran their parallel governments and held their private courts. The Rajas had no say in the matter or any other personal matter or any decision regarding their children. A strong Rani could easily run the kingdom and most of them did.

For every concubine, there was a handsome stable boy, and an even handsomer cook. Feudalism invented the open marriage.

It is an irony that many accomplished women I know today are still nothing but glorified secretaries of their husbands. They raise their daughters to be like them, and defer to their sons. They abject themselves to a gender skewered narrow divisive system they were raised in and continue to propagate. I cannot see them as examples to be emulated.

5.  Rajputs are crude and barbaric.

Yet their customs, etiquette and havelis are a lucrative tourist exhibition of aesthetics and culture. Many try to imitate their Royal lifestyle but fail miserably. There’s only so much you can do with nouveau riche money, social climbing fame and a convent education.

Of the men vociferously denouncing Rajput barbarism, one has been accused of killing his wife, and the others are renowned gropers. Only no victimised woman will come out and speak about it.

They speak only when the topic turns to Padmavati, the non-issue.










Kangana’s game changing woman card


How many Bollywood actresses have reached top billing by the sheer dint of woman-centric-powerful-performances?

Let’s call this phenomenon the Ace Woman of Spades card.

Answer is – So far only one, Kangana Ranaut.

Let’s look at the arcs of other actresses.

Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor

Strong players of the Buzurg Khan Piya Card.

Priyanka Chopra, Anoushka Sharma who had played this card in their early days are now struggling to break away from this mould while still swimming in the mainstream. They are attempting independent productions and women centric roles but changing the game doesn’t seem to be their intention. The Weak Woman Card.

Vidya Balan has an arc similar to Kangana but hasn’t reached top billing yet, but will be interesting to watch. The Wild Card.

Strictly from the safety of the comfort of their environment, many established actresses are time to time calling out gender issues. For example, when Padukone’s cleavage made headlines, and Rani Mukherjee talked about child trafficking. The Safe Woman Card.

More on this-

Sociology and the national importance of Deepika Padukone’s cleavage Continue reading “Kangana’s game changing woman card”

Idiopathic Epilepsy. Guest blog by inclusion advocate Shalinee

Adversity is a good teacher, it teaches you how to survive sometimes through phases and sometimes to sail through life. The toughest lesson it teaches you is to build your faith in the face of uncertainty. Plunging, not knowing if you’ll hit the ground…walking not knowing where the road’s headed, jumping into waters with little swimming skills.

Faith my dear is all you’re left with and all you’ll ever have.

Our introduction to Faith began 5 years ago, our elder son (now 14 years) was hit by seizures and even before we could blink our eyes, and our life went topsy- turvy. The sounds of the regular ho hum of a family transformed into constant Patient-Doc chats ! No matter how hard we tried to grab at our old life, we watched it slip through our fingers little by little and all we could do was watch the colours change… teary eyed. We did the expected- met with all the neurologists from Delhi/NCR, few overseas and wrote hundred emails to some others….leading to the same conclusion “idiopathic epilepsy”. We’ve watched our fun loving energetic son go through innumerable eegs, radioactive tests, feel hundreds of pricks and experience the horrible ICU several times. In a matter of few months Aadi was on heavy anti epileptic drugs, each new neurologist came up with classification and categorizations of syndromes we did not even know existed. They were very responsible you know, clinical, blunt, no promises, few words and as usual no bulls eye answers.

It’s been 5 years we still don’t know what causes our healthy intelligent regular kid to seize multiple times in a month…strangely neither do the doctors.

He’s changed a lot , confidence has taken a beating, tags and labels are on his face, getting pushed around is common and yet Faith keeps him and us afloat.

Epilepsy is that creepy horrible monster that comes crouching un informed, suddenly and viciously … can barely ever prepare for a seizure! As a result Aadi lost most of his friends, lost a year of school, wore a seizure helmet (in a country like India where even your name is judged), fought through slurring speech as a result of medicines, put on 30 kgs and braved innumerable falls leading to stitches ……day in and out. People still don’t know how to be around him, they are cautious while kids are judgmental and bullying. It’s easy for anybody to say “ it happens deal with it”. However the killing bit for any parent is to live and watch your child suffer. We’re always judged for being his backbone, but who will if we won’t. We live in an area considered one of the best, however none of the families possibly ever sensitized their kids on epilepsy they only seem to have forewarned their kids about him.

Epilepsy can hit any normal person at any given age for various reasons. It does not show on the face, however it can hamper intelligence and growth, and on the other hand if controlled it does not effect the person much. The place of seizure origination is what assists doctors to prescribe drugs and that is also why symptoms occur. In Aadi’s case temporal lobe is where seizures begin which cause – short term memory, difficulty in logic (math and science), fatigue, short attention span, fidgetiness to name a few. The drugs too add to this and make things much worse, they can cause- weight gain, slurry speech, blurred vision, drowsiness, depression, anxiety, low focus, metabolic problems and a whole lot more. When as a family you’re dealing with all of this, all you’re seeking desperately is acceptance & inclusion.

The only place where this need can be met is your community and through a school.

We realized schools are neither informed nor equipped to manage kids like Aadi and others that have different needs. There is little or no curriculum and you’re forever compromising and finding the mid way to balance the act and not to rock the boat. In the beginning it was a tussle seeking exemptions of various kinds as he looked just like a regular kid, until few seizures were on campus and it was established. We’ve however been blessed that the school agreed to evolve and grow with us, today that’s his biggest comfort zone. He’s been exempted from learning main subjects and is taught few in class, and few 1×1 sessions are conducted for other subjects. The school was willing to make a difference in Aadi’s life they are active participators in his growth.

I would like to reach out to YOU the reader, and urge you to reach out to yours help them raise their sensitivity and awareness. When you’re going about life, pause and be careful who you chance upon, be tolerant and patient disabilities are not crowns that set you apart for quick identification…it takes time to face. Educate your children and elders on the true meaning of inclusion and acceptance. If you’re an educator, professor, teacher better still – be the voice of evolution, bring about a change in schools, be the one to steer thought leadership in a direction of acceptance. We’ve all read and even experienced any change needs to be brought by people, an then made a habit to become a lifestyle. It’s not about a group that is directly affected it’s about self respect and the right to BE….for any individual. Ostracism, rejection, seclusion, name calling, bullying will continue unless love-acceptance-equality are taught at homes to be seen in the society.

The world needs to be a better place, our homes, communities, streets, schools must be welcoming comforting and accepting. How can anybody grow and evolve under immense pressure and scrutiny… ……..GROWTH REQUIRES NURTURING.

Children with needs don’t seek sympathy; they need acceptance of who they are and how they are. Unless we as a nation come together and bring a change, humanity at some level will always fail.

And if am stating the obvious, if it sounds like a broken record….why isn’t it this change a reality yet !


Shalinee is a mother of two boys and lives with her husband in Faridabad. She’s a part time professional and a fulltime homemaker. Their older son has seizures since 5 years, he’s now 14. She has a strong desire to reach out to parents similarly challenged with adversity, and build a likeminded community. You can reach Shalinee at –

Implementation of inclusive education laws in all schools

Petition to Ministry of Human Resources Development and 3 others
Implementation of Inclusive Education laws in all schools
There are, in our country, around 20 lakh children of school going age with disabilities. Around 46 lakhs are between the age of 10 and 19. None of them have a truly viable and fair means of education providing them dignity and equality in the societies they live in. And therefore we cannot even begin to comprehend how many bright intact minds are lost to mainstream life. Most are not even permitted basic rights of existence or human decency.
We, a group of parents struggling with inclusive education for many years appeal to you on behalf of all children with special needs impacted by school insensitivity. Not only ours but many, if not all children with disabilities have faced to varying degrees of severity, harassment, abuse and demonisation in the name of inclusive education.
Even in the most premier schools of the country, behind the facade of token inclusion, runs the ugly operation of ‘business as usual.’ Education can no longer be defined as the imparting of knowledge. It is now defined as the art of weeding out through innovative practices low scoring students and segregating them from high scoring students. Not only are children with disabilities denied school admission on various pretexts, low scoring neurotypical children are labelled as disabled to showcase the school’s facade of inclusive education. As a result average students are not allowed to attempt mainstream boards like ICSE and CBSE, and are pushed into exams more suitable to marginal and disabled students-the NIOS. Children with disabilities, much lower in the pecking order, of course have no chance of even getting close to the Board exams like ICSE or CBSE. Many do not even take the NIOS exam. Most do not get school admission. Those who do are victims of insensitive school administrations to an extent heightened by the fact that there is no redressal, monitoring or supervision of inclusive education policies.
In the light of this disturbing and alarming trend, we appeal to the Ministry and the school boards to watchfully implement and prevent the infringement of existing inclusive education laws and policies.
Our agenda
1. Zero rejection of children for school admission. This is important because the selective admission criterion is allowing schools to discriminate against certain disabilities. This should not be permitted since all children have a Right to Education.
2. Only children with benchmark disabilities of 60 percent or more should be admitted in the disability quota of 3 percent in a school. All children without benchmark disabilities should be immediately mainstreamed. This will prevent the danger of neurotypical children being pushed into disability labelling to fill quotas so the school can showcase inclusive education and also prevent below 90 percenters from taking the Board exams.
3. Handover of responsibility and accountability of special needs from special educator to the extra class teacher. The extra class teacher supports the class but is primarily responsible for 1 or maximum 2 children with special needs. There should not be more than 2 children with special needs in a class. The class teacher has qualifications like the rest of the teaching staff like B.Ed, but with specialisation in disability, and gets higher pay. The teacher supervises teaching by ‘universal design’ for the entire class and customises special needs according to individual disabilities. Supervision of personal attendants for the child is also the extra teacher’s responsibility. This simple solution has found success in some countries and not only roots out segregation policies practiced by special educators, it is cheaper than the exclusive and highly commercial special education setups installed within schools.
4. Open door policies for parental intervention, cctv footage and parental access to their children and teaching staff at all times. Individual lesson plans, programs, must always be done with consent of the parent/guardian, and partnership if the parents so desire. This is necessary to enable and ensure a secure and sensitised environment around the child.
These simple changes can bring about the paradigm shift necessary for inclusive education.
And this can be done with, again, a few simple actionable points.
1. Empowerment of Adminstrative Cells, as prescribed in the RPWD act, IEDSS, Section 31, in every district to ensure these educational directives are scrupulously followed.
2. A board council committee ( ICSE, CBSE etc.) in every school to nurture and handhold children with disabilities, so that the ones who obtain admission are not unfairly weeded out in early years.
3. Stringent deregistration, by boards and the ministry, of schools showing inclusive education malpractice in deed and intent.
These changes will not only give a new lease of life to around 46 lakh disabled children it will provide an equitable representation of students in the yearly board exams, thus giving far reaching opportunities for career, education and quality of life improvements to many children.
Last, but not the least these changes will improve the quality of general education . This is because schools will shift focus- from elimination of students to education of students. And this will have a deep impact on creating a more empathetic and cultured society.