Padmavati: An open letter from Shurpanakha to the Karni Sena and men sharpening knives everywhere
Karni Sena brothers, I give you one of those strange English sayings: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Why not meditate on that?
By Nisha Susan
Can’t a girl get some sleep around here? No? Because every time I get a little shut-eye I hear that metallic grind of you lot sharpening something. And then I know it’s not my nose, but there is some woman’s nose you are after.
This time, I hear it’s Deepika Padukone’s nose. Because she is in that movie about Padmavati, a long-dead woman who a long-dead man may have seen in a mirror. Over the millennia I’ve seen lots of gents running around cutting women’s noses. As you know. For stupid reasons. As also you know. I mean, you got worked up when Padukone said she is appalled that you brothers did things like destroy shops and vandalise a cinema hall in Kota. “Rajputs never raise a hand on women but if need be, we will do to Deepika what Lakshman did to Shurpanakha,” said Karni Sena leader Mahipal Singh Makrana.
Having lived as long as I have, I can never crank up feelings to properly appalled. But attacking that rangoli artist in Surat was quite random, if you don’t mind my saying so. Abhi kya hai ki, I don’t mind if you mind also. The beauty of my post naak-katva scene is that men in battle formation or sulk formation cease to bother you. Now, if only I didn’t wake up each time I hear that grinding I’d be truly zen. But there is that Phantom Nose Syndrome, what to do.
As noses go Padukone’s is a nice nose, don’t you think? Not that it matters to you, you’d cut off any woman’s nose and then promptly get to writing that she looked kakka anyway, what loss her nose? I wasn’t bad-looking, you know. I looked a lot like my mother Kaikesi. But you men were in some post-truth funk, prepared to swear up and down that since I made a move first, I must be desperate with my ugly face, pot-belly and those sharp nails of mine.
My friends called me Meenakshi, if you really want to know. I did have eyes like a fish and I needed those sharp nails in my life. First they married me to someone literally called Dushtabuddhi (I mean, literally) and then Ravana was like: Surprise, sis! He’s no good, I will just kill him. So there I was, a widow, not what you call conventionally beautiful, and stuck in the court of an extra ambitious, too many brains brother.
Back in that moment when I was making my famously #fail move on one brother and the other, I kept wondering which way to go. Soft sell or hard sell. Little bit smoochie and then ask them whether they’d teach my brother a lesson, or pick one of the above. Anyway, it all fell apart and instantly appeared you boys ki famous proclivity. Either you are saying ki you didn’t fight your kidnapper hard enough, naak katva di. Or it is that you came on too hard so I will kaato your naak for you. Basically roaming around grinding your knife ready to cut a nose, any lady’s nose.
Now you gents are after Deepika Padukone’s. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has sworn up and down the country that there is no dream sequence in which Alauddin Khilji and Padmavati will be in the same frame and that it’s all a rumour, but you are like no, no, no. Because you have dreamed that there is a dream, is that it? Over hundreds and hundreds of years, ever since the 13th century, the frisson of the Muslim man glimpsing the Rajput queen is still giving you the shivers, is it? (Achha chalo, I don’t blame you on this front. The Other is Hot, this is the universal truth. Hence my misadventures in the forest and hence, also, that incredible Muharram scene in Raees. Whip me.)
Maybe what you are really afraid of is that this new movie will somehow remind people how daft our textbooks are to continuously claim that Khilji attacked Chittor for Padmavati. That people will start wondering why Chittor collapsed, queen or not. Books written by men, I notice, are not so hot on facts and are really hot on blame.
Now I have lots of books I could quarrel about, especially one written by a man whose name starts with a V and ends with an I, but I’m too old for this. Places to go, things to do, y’know. But I’m going to make an exception for Padmavati, seeing as she is my fellow countrywoman from Sri Lanka, at least in that poet dude Malik Muhamed Jayasi’s version. According to Jayasi, a talking parrot told Chittor’s king Ratan Sen about Padmavati and so he brought her away from her nice, leafy island happiness to be among folk who were constantly worried about noses. And then Khilji, the mirror, the war, and the end. Now, Jayas probably dreamt up a fictional heroine for whom a hardened invader would change his plans to make the story more relatable, or he just liked writing about beautiful women whose lives end badly, or he liked the adolescent pathos of the it-was-all-for nothing-feeling when Khilji walks into an empty fortress after everyone dies. Who knows.
I just want to tell you that back in Lanka, no poet would write about women jumping into fire to kill themselves just in case the men lost a battle. We girls from Lanka like to ensure we don’t lose battles (and if you are murmuring something about Hanuman and fire right now, please don’t, that’s another story). Poor Padmavati, so much peer pressure, she must have been wishing that parrot dead and all mirrors shattered. Instead, into the centuries the parrot talked and the mirror gleamed and she became that simpering inflammable miss.
So no, Padmavati wasn’t real but does it matter? And Jodha Bai of Jodhaa Akbar was not really Akbar’s wife, and that doesn’t matter also. I mean, my nose isn’t real and it doesn’t matter and the dream sequence you brothers are burning things in several states for apparently isn’t real and that doesn’t matter either.
Here you are again, fellows, prepared to go to war for a film you haven’t watched. I hear you are saying that Sanjay Leela Bhansali can’t be trusted because you feel he gave haath last time with his Ram-Leela screening, showing you one version and releasing another. Betrayal makes your knife hand itch and everything your mother told you about filmi types is coming back, isn’t it?
I understand the sab kuch jala do feeling (or to quote you precisely, “Jauhar ki jwala hai, bahut kuch jalega. Rok sako to rok lo”), so I won’t give you a laundry list of shattered promises that you might want to be angry about instead. Rationality is so overrated. Instead, Karni Sena brothers, I give you one of those strange English sayings: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Why not meditate on that? Breathe in. Breathe out.
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