‘I am Padmavati, and I won’t let anyone hijack my life or legacy’

By Shobhaa De for TOI

Hello! My name is Padmavati. For some odd reason, I have become the most discussed woman on earth. My life is being dissected. Micro-analysed. Put into various convenient slots. And yet, not a single person has bothered to ask me what I feel about my life being converted into a tragic charade. To begin with, I am not even sure I existed, except in a poet’s imagination! But my legend definitely lives on in the collective imagination. I am fine with that. What upsets me are the interpretations. Who dares speak in my name? Have you sought my permission to do so? What do you know about me? Only that which is presented by balladeers who have romanticised my life and created an enduring myth. Balladeers are fine, too. What is being done with those ballads today, is not! I would have overlooked all the versions that claim to represent me and my world, had it not generated this level of hate, at a time when we need love.

As a queen, venerated by generations, it is my duty to set the record straight. I don’t want to argue with learned scholars and historians. But I do have a bone to pick with people who are threatening violence under the guise of protecting my name. Who are these people? Someone called Suraj Pal Amu has jumped in to defend my honour, by placing a bounty on another woman’s head! If he cared even a bit about my honour, he would not have boasted about investing Rs 10 crore or 20 crore to commit murder! Beheadings? This is beyond barbarism. He has still not been sufficiently punished for these threats, and has the guts to say, “Nobody can play with the sentiments of this country.” He is right. But he is doing exactly that! What should I do with such a man? Then there is Lokendra Singh Kalvi, who heads some outfit called Karni Sena. He claims he is my direct descendant — 37th generation, he says. Can he prove it? That will be a biological feat! He is protesting that history is being ‘distorted’. Let’s discuss his own history first. Now he wants Mewar royalty to clear ‘Padmavati’. Why them? Is their history pure and untainted? Are they the final arbiters on my life? His solution to the crisis is to burn the reels of the movie that bears my name. He calls it symbolic of jauhar, and believes it will appease hurt sentiments. Nothing can be as hurtful as this man’s abhorrent utterings.

These are just two men talking big and attracting attention. The focus of the Rajputs ought to be on bigger issues confronting women from their state. Use my name for worthy, constructive projects that can inspire the oppressed women of my state. Look at their pitiable lot! My name means a lot to them. And I am angry! I don’t care which state has an election coming up. I don’t care about vote banks and politicians. What is happening is destructive and wicked. It must stop. A gentleman called Prasoon Joshi is saying India is going through changes and we must be patient. How patient? This so-called churning is dangerous. And women are the first hit when cultural churning takes place.

Ask me. Since the 16th century, I have been held up as a role model for women. Sometimes, I feel so manipulated by the men who describe me as the ideal, while doing absolutely nothing to better the lives of their own women. Why do they do this? My time, my era, was different. Why would any woman of today want to be pushed back several centuries? Who needs lectures on sacrifice, obedience, and surrender when the reality of everyday life is so ugly and unfair? Why don’t these men see it from a woman’s perspective, for a change? Amu claims to be educated but has no qualms asking for Deepika Padukone’s head. There are those who have threatened to cut off her nose! What sort of gallant Rajputs are these who show off false valour by perpetrating violence on defenceless women.

I believe I am being used and my name is being exploited by certain opportunists for their own petty gains. Some may have a bigger political agenda. Others just want to send out a message to their own womenfolk — step out of line, and this is what we can do to you. Behave yourselves, display blind obedience, deny your personal freedoms, and you will be rewarded. Well, women cannot be this easily fooled! Good try. But it’s too late. I want to tell these women to listen to their own inner voices, make their own decisions, stand up and fight for what they want, what they believe in, what they can achieve. Every woman is born a warrior. Our strengths are our own. We don’t need to behead men to prove our bravery. We just need to survive and thrive on our own terms. I will not allow anybody to hijack my life and take possession of my legacy. It belongs to me and me alone. And all of you have the right to watch the film and judge that precious legacy for yourselves.

(The article was first published on Times of India written by Shobhaa De a journalist, columnist, social commentator, opinion-shaper and author of 18 books.)