‘Padmini of Malwa’ blurs the line between fiction and history. What does this mean for storytelling?

“Believe it or not”, says Priyadarshi Thakur “Khayal” in his “autobiography” of Rani Ruupmati, Padmini from Malwa, “This is really Rani Ruupmati’s autobiography, I just wrote down what she told me.” History says that Rani Ruupmati poisoned herself to death in 1561.

Thakur would disagree with the suggestion that the “autobiography” arose in his imagination. In “The Scribe’s Note” he writes: “I am aware that there will be few takers for what must be declared my ‘spiel’ …”. Thakur weaves the story of Ruupmati’s story by transcribing visions where she tells him about her life. While this is literary vanity, this method shapes the novel in a way where the scribe and reader are both listeners.

But unlike the reader, the scribe often interrupts the narration. “What can I say, simple scribe?” He asks when she admits that she can’t remember certain details from her childhood. Ruupmati, as a character, admits his possible biases and identifies what a cynical listener would choose, explaining himself in every part of the novel.

Similar to conversations where a participant plugs the holes in their account, this excessive explanation serves as clarification. But he whispers another reason: All women, even the Queen of Malwa, are supposed to explain themselves. Thakur’s characterization forces Ruupmati to crumble but allows him to redeem himself for any wrongdoing, fabricating the vulnerability that accompanies an autobiography.

“My dear scribe, you must be thinking what a stupid, ungrateful and suspicious mistress I was for a faithful companion like Nayla, but remember I was just a fifteen year old girl who had gone through so many ups and downs. low in her short life. I had been cheated so often that I trusted no one but my beau and I was determined not to share the slightest bit of her affection with anyone.

The male gaze

Thakur’s writing of the novel as a transcription of an unbalanced conversation resists “showing,” wielding language like a cunning swordsman. When the reader accesses one-on-one that they’re not part of, Ruupmati admits that she used to listen to her family after her father started looking for a husband for her. By “telling”, Thakur thickens the uncertainty that clouds the mind of a woman whose decisions are beyond her reach. But saying begets showing. In the novel, they coexist as roommates who don’t bicker and talk like friends.

Example: the character of Rao Yaduveer Singh Parbhar. Thakur draws him as the father Ruupmati ends up loving but with whom he disagrees. He ignites the hypocrisy of his fatherhood. When a man accuses his daughter of fornication, Parbhar prepares to “sacrifice” her (read: murder) for the honor of the family, but when she lives with her lover, who happens to be a Muslim king, the Hindu in him decides that she is in “captivity” and requests her “return” through Rani Durgawati. When the abuser tries to become a self-proclaimed savior, Thakur “shows” how ideas of gender and religion swirl in politics.

Baz Bahadur, the king of Malwa and the husband of Ruupmati, further exposes these ideas when he recognizes the word “wife” as an “offensive word”. The dialogue slips scribbled notes with this derogation when Ruupmati reproaches herself for feeling annoying under the gaze of Bhaunda and her sister Ketki, Ruupmati’s foster mother.

Thakur shows how this look facilitates the concept of “izzat” and benefits men. When Bhaunda finds Ruupmati’s ustad Revadiya making an unsolicited advance – and lashes out at Parbhar, his obsession with her removes its veil of affection. While the novel doesn’t erase the impact of the gaze, it crushes it when Baz compares him and Ruupmati to Khilji and Padmini. He does not recognize the terror that chaperones the analogy.

“… Did Alauddin Khilji get Rani Padmini for all the problems he had?” “
“No, she committed a jauhar. “
Before I could say anything more, Baz said, ‘But I have my Padmini quietly …’ “

The scribe’s strategy

But the character of Baz sometimes unwinds the tape of masculinity that plays out in everyday life. The language allows him to recognize his wife as an equal, and their marriage moves away from the formality of the “aap” to approach the intimate “tum”. Unfortunately, the toxic masculinity marinade sticks to Baz, and he watches Ruupmati when he tells her not to turn her eyes to Suuli Bardi, a public execution site, days after seeing him behead two disloyal subjects.

Their marriage occupies the throne of the novel as it is the means by which Thakur controls the elements of the narrative. One of these elements is the poetry that stains Ruupmati’s transcription, allowing the reader to become a voyeur of the amorous language between her and her husband.

But Baz is also a king, and a Muslim in addition, who loves his Hindu wife. This forces poetry to expand to the other end of the canonical idiom until it becomes a hateful tool for fabricating rumors that mock the love between Ruupmati and her husband.

Black magic made the bad guys
Rani perform
And dry-sapped
The manly form of our beloved sultan;
She summoned clouds
And made them pour in a snap
Of the daggers that she watched her jump
And made it burn
Our poor innocent Baz has finally been
Consumed by the witch’s curse –
foolish heart … my foolish heart
We have nothing to do with it, however
He got married and brought on his own
His mortal enemy!
For sure, for sure
Poor Baz has been devoured
By that dirty whore.

An additional element is the scribe’s interruptions. Thakur, as a scribe and a character, sheds the skin of the writer. He feigns humility when he describes himself as a “mere scribe” while constantly disrupting the flow of Ruupmati’s transcript as a biased researcher.

The italicized portions of the humblebrag dissociate the story from its preferred identity of “autobiography”. But what’s most annoying about these interruptions is how they fail to intervene when Ruupmati blames herself for the actions of those around her, leaving her as helpless as she was in her life. his childhood. When the interruptions are scrawled on the transcript, they recognize its beauty and royalty. While this reassures Ruupmati, it doesn’t do much for the story itself.

“My dear scribe, you must be even more astonished now, a lover of twenty-six and a beloved of barely eighteen talking to each other on such complex matters! Yes sir, they did it because they were Sultan Baz Bahadur and Rani Ruupmati. They were talking about such things. This is precisely the reason why people have not stopped talking about it even after five centuries.

She smiled and disappeared, leaving me wondering how she guessed what I was thinking!

Padmini from Malwa adds foam to the wait for an autobiography. He slips between the cracks of history and fiction. In doing so, he could become the harbinger of a new form or the destroyer of an old one.

Padmini of Malwa: The Autobiography of Rani Ruupmati, as Priyadarshi Thakur ‘Khayal’ said, Speaking Tiger.

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