Sid – THE WANDERER
Who was Rani Padmavati? Is her story simply a legend? Is there a version of the history, accepted by all, which details out her life? With the recent attack on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie set in Rajasthan and the controversy around her story, I decided to revisit some of these questions. A long time back I had visited the Chittorgarh fort which is where Padmavati is believed to have lived. The visit left a deep impact and I wrote short a short and fictionalized account about a part of her life.
So here it is: The legend of Rani Padmavati
This wasn’t how I thought it would end. I never thought it would end at all, my state of blissfulness was supposed to continue for many years to come. I wasn’t yet ready. I didn’t want to go ahead with it, I wasn’t given a choice.
Damyanti came in and looked at me again, without looking at me in the eye. She was taught never to look at me like that, she could be killed just for that; and she knew her role even now.
I asked her to come and sit with me in front of the mirror. Left confused, she didn’t move and kept looking down at her feet. She had come in thrice already and every time I had ignored her completely. I knew I couldn’t send her back without any answers this time.
‘Do you have kids?’ I asked as I took off my bangles and placed them on the side. She shook her head in denial.
‘You can talk to me Please. I need to hear someone say a word to me, this silence is deafening.’
‘So are you married?’
‘In love with someone?’
‘Yes’, she said, her eyes fell and she smiled.
‘You are very beautiful, look at yourself in the mirror. I like your eyes, I like your lips.’ She looked up and saw us both in the mirror, she too was beautiful and knew it too. She smiled and quickly looked down once again.
I touched her icy cold lips and her eyes with my delicate yet numb fingers, and slowly caressed her face. The act was sensual as well as tragic, for I knew this would be my last intimate contact with anyone. Embarrassed, Damyanti looked into the mirror and looked at me again. She smiled once again, smiled for both of us.
Something about her made me want to hug her tightly, but I didn’t. But she took her hard and caressed my face. We both cried, we both knew this was the end. And there was nothing after this. I took out a little of kohl from my eyes and put in hers, a simple gesture that finally bought us closer to being friends.
‘I have this for you, they didn’t want you to have it. But I know how difficult it would be without it.’ I took the gray ball and played with it with my fingers. I knew I still wasn’t ready for it.
‘Are you too coming with me?’ I asked.
‘Till the end of time.’
I wondered why was she like this, what was in it for her? But maybe she knew no other life, had no idea that there could be another life besides this.
I opened my drawer and took out the keys to the secret door of the passage to the far outpost. There was little hope that we still had it under our control, but she had better use of the keys than me. I knew she couldn’t say a no to me, no one had taught her that. I commanded her to take the keys and run; I wanted her to be happy.
I looked at myself one last time in the mirror, adjusted my flowing skirt and looked outside from the window into the vast expanse of trees and rivers in the valley below. As I walked out of the room, two guards immediately took their place behind me as women poured out from every room, crying for me, crying for themselves, crying for all of us today.
As we left my abode, I saw thousands of them, all dressed in their best, but with their hair open and beating their chests. I couldn’t take it anymore, already. They all looked at me, and I saw love in their eyes. They bowed down as I walked on the path, the red-blue steps already smeared with the vermilion; it looked like blood to me. I was shivering now, not from the cool winter breeze, but from fear. Death was crawling up my skin and I was scared.
From a distance I could hear the priests chanting the sacred vedic mantras and the loud noise of the beating drums. I knew they had been waiting for me for a while, and knew now that I was finally on my way. Women still kept pouring out from every direction, and their cries and songs filled my mind, briefly making me dizzy. The absence of men was startling; only a few remained, and they were dressed in orange, our color of martyrdom.
I had thrown the opium ball long back, I wanted to feel the pain just like my Rana. I stepped forward and into the small temple of our kul devta. Our father-like temple priest wiped the vermilion from my forehead and blessed me with his palm on my head. I looked up and saw tears streaming from his eyes, he was crying inconsolably. All the women had stopped singing, all the other priests had stopped chanting, all I could hear now were cries. Young women, old women, kids of all ages, they were all crying. Some old women were still beating their chests silently while others pulled their hair.
Our priest took my hand and took me ahead to the steps and away from life as I knew it. I climbed up the steps alone and closed my eyes. The chanting had started once again but I heard none of it. Everything flashed through my mind; they say end does this to us. I believed them all today. I took off all my jewelry and threw it in first. The gold glittered even more. My loose and long hair flew all around me, dancing with the strong wind. I spread my arms and threw my head back. But I wanted to be free, finally.
As I spread my arms and jumped, I saw my mother. She opened her arms wide and smiled. The crying was at its peak then, but I heard nothing. The pain seared through my soft skin and the fire engulfed me completely. Before I closed my eyes one last time, I saw hundreds jumping in and joining me in this pond of fire.
Afterwards, it was only silence and darkness