The posters, the banners, the arson, the threats. The faceless senas, the countless netas. The politics, the economics. The spectres of a fort, the spectacle of a cinema hall. The debates in Delhi, the silence in Bombay, the mobiles held up steady. The Karni Sena, the Jauhar Samiti. The pagdis, the poshak, the twirled moustache, the Kshatriya kaleidoscope on TV. Let them all out.
Lock the fort gates, tear the film screens, cut some noses, break some heads. Silence the music, stop the dance. Confine your daughters for “they” are coming; then set your sons loose. Let someone hurt.
Cover it in jewellery, dress it up in honour. Call it history, call it fiction. Embellish with talking parrots, dream up scheming sorcerers, blame the “paapi keedas”, swirl a ghoomar. And that Padmavati’s jewellery was made of “400 kg gold”, let that sink in.
Celebrate it as love, denounce it as lust. Smash some mirrors, draw some swords. Lay down what is bravery and decide what is cowardice — your rules and your game. For times now and centuries to come. Let it be heard.
Forget the 700 years, make it present. Ditch sense, and float on pride. Take to the streets, don’t look down at the potholes. Breathe fire, ignore the air. Raise memorials, banish memory. Rewrite the books, shut out the writers. Let it all play out.
Jump into battle, from far and wide. Dam the ripples, swim with the tide. Because only if you ignore the girls, will you have your devis. And should a Santoshi die, there will be a Manushi. A new queen, for the new times, to fete with crores, to fight over on chillar, to endow with honour, and to watch that cover the shame — it could be khap, it could be murder. Let it rip.
For, if this is what you want, this is what I want. But what is it you want, this new army waging a war in my name again? I don’t recognise you, you who vow blood for my sake, in broad smiles and scary stares, in encouraging words and menacing glares, watching my navel to my flowing hair — or is it that I know you only too well? Let it be asked.
What would you have me do? Rejoice my dying, for death it was? Realise the glory, for that’s what I hear it was? Recede into the cold depths of that fort once your anger is spent, for that is how it is? Then wait for a school textbook or a Bollywood tale to remember me, for that is to be my story? Let me wonder a bit.
Because my dear foot-soldiers, consider the possibility: That this may not end just as you want. That this spark may spread further than that fire. It may shine light on some uncomfortable corners. Singe your boundaries, char your veils, burn your hands. Or just settle as an ember in your homes.
Because if it’s my time, I am demanding to be heard. Not as “Rashtramata”, nor as “Rani”, not as an ancestor, nor as a descendant, not as a wife, nor as a conquest. Not even as a woman who looks like Deepika Padukone. But as one who “burnt to death in a mass suicide, with 16,000 others”. Not the stuff of dreams, but the makings of a nightmare. Let it be said.
Feel our blood curdle, hear our bones shatter, smell our skin burn. Allow us a few tears. See it paint the walls red, witness it shame the sky black. Don’t hold your nose, don’t turn away your eyes. This is I, Padmini. And as you imagine me alive, remember, I die a thousand deaths.
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