(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Sanjay Raut. Wait, wait. This isn’t a voice which you are hearing from behind Kangana Ranaut’s skirt. This man can fill up your nostrils all on his own. He is always in your face like the ones who knock at your car panels on red lights. Ranaut is only the latest excuse.
Raut is a leashed presence at the feet, a prototype all leaders keep only to be released in time. Some act suave, like Pavan Varma and Derek O’ Brien and some are cast in his inimitable mould such as Azam Khan and Sanjay Singh, if you may. Congress has too many which this piece is too short to do justice to. So, Randeep Surjewalas and Navjot Sidhus and Digvijay Singhs could relax.
There was a time when Sanjay Raut wanted to bar Muslims from voting in elections. He came around to stand with them on anti-CAA plank, chumming up to Jamaat-e-Islamic Hind. This change was overnight. It swung with equations of his Shiv Sena vis-à-vis BJP. He once bloated on the upcoming Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial site on the Arabian Sea. He is now drawing daggers at Rani Lakshmi Bai, i.e Kangana Ranaut in a filmi avatar.
So who is the real Sanjay Raut? Nobody. He is just a muckracker in the journalistic tradition of our times. He edits his party’s paper, Saamana, and takes credit for writing a biopic on Balasaheb and would be mistaken as erudite by somebody living in North Pole. Well, after all he has been an “elder” in Rajya Sabha for three terms now. But his calling card, as you would’ve guessed by now, is baring his teeth when his masters want him to.
So, it’s with him now on Kangana Ranaut. It was good he affixed “ladki” with his “haramkhor” adjective. Or somebody would’ve thought he was in a self-appraisal mode. I mean thrice a national award winner, four times of Filmfare, all by the age of 30, doesn’t quite fit the definition of a “haramkhor.”
As you would’ve guessed, the gender-warriors in our newspapers have ducked into their gutters. All your Shobhaa Dees, Mahua Moitras, Priyanka Gandhis, Brinda Karats who bristle at slights on the fairer sex are silent. And we are talking of no ordinary woman here. It’s a prized actress who is picking up the cudgels against the patriarchal Bollywood. Who wants to clean up the filmi stable of drugs and Dubai mafia. Who wants to offer a tomorrow of safety and respect and dignity to a newcomer who is arriving at VT station from Asansol. Who doesn’t want them to meet the fate of a Sushant Singh Rajput. That their young eyes with dreams aren’t closed forever. A woman who is risking her life, lighting a matchstick on her own career, who if she was to venture into Mumbai today would have an idea how a PoK must feel like.
But not a word from our pen-pushers. Not a clap for the triumph of talent over entitlement. She is not a “Shero” to Barkha Dutt. Nor she is a Safoora Zargar who gets a cry of outrage from Shekhar Gupta’s ThePrint. A Sagarika Ghose brings out international law in defence of Safoora. A Rajdeep Sardesai tears his heart out on a pregnant woman in jail. Somebody calls Ishrat Jahan a daughter of our own land. Never mind one is charged with inciting riots and the other with a plot to assassinate a chief minister.
Our Bollywood bimbos now can’t find the placard in support of their gender. Against one of their own who they can’t match in range in this lifetime. Why bother if there are couches perfumed for their hinterland preys, ringed by leering louts? That youngsters are no better than playthings for those who happen to be their dads?
All of them—these starlets, muckraking journalists, political clowns—are toxics in our life. They don’t allow us to smell a rose; inhale a breeze, whistle a tune. Once in a while, somebody stands up risking everything one has. And she is “haramkhor” to them.
Aren’t we sick, folks?
I happened to watch “Manikarnika—The Queen of Jhansi” in theatre the other day. Kangana Ranaut as the protagonist was a force of purity and leaping flame. Fleeting were the images of India’s War of Independence of 1857 of which she was a leading light. It shook the East India Company and led to India’s formal takeover by the British crown.
People of my generation surely remember the immortal poem of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904-1948): “Bundele Harbolon Ke Moonh Humnein Suni Kahani Thi; Khoob Ladi Mardani Woh to Jhansi Waali Rani Thi.”(Read the full nerve-tingling poem here). I am not sure if the inspirational poem is still part of Class VI textbook and the younger lot is as familiar as we were while growing up; so I advice do watch the movie, look up for Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and you could also be wrestling with a few questions which have since assailed me.
Do we have a state celebration of the birth (November 19, 1828) or death (June 18, 1858 ) anniversary of the Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi as we have of Tipu Sultan (November 10) in Karnataka? Why May 10 is not celebrated as the day the 1857 War of Independence broke out? Why not have a commemorative trail from Meerut to Delhi? Or at least make accessible the book, written by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, on the subject. Isn’t those who forget history are condemned to repeat it?
The other issue which interests me is how Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi escaped the censorious Nehruvian impact which usually has been the fate of glorious figures of Hindu kings, generals and dare I say politicians (Sardar Patel and Madan Mohan Malviya, for instance). After all, she was the central figure of Hindutva politics circa 1857 and has been an icon ever since. How the Rani of Jhansi remained alive in the nation’s psyche despite the Western-oriented elites controlling the written and spoken words in this country.
For one, Rani of Jhansi herself was a subject of great attention by the Colonial authors and historians. The patriarchal society of West had a problem in coming to terms with the Rani. The British press was quick to dub her as “The Jezebel of India” or a shameless and immoral woman (after Jezebel, wife of Ahab in the Old Testament). Contemporary historian John Lang, who knew her, wrote in Wanderings in India (1858): “Her dress was plain white muslin, so fine in texture and drawn about her in such a way that the outline of her figure was plainly discernible—a remarkably fine figure she had.” Christopher Hibbert in his Great Mutiny says that Rani was to acquire among British officers an “undeserved reputation for excessive lasciviousness.” Basically, the colonial myth of British masculinity and the domesticity of Hindu women didn’t conform with Rani’s persona.
All this to go with her universally acknowledged bravery. Field Marshal Hugh Rose who fought her on warfields, thus described her: “She was the bravest and best military leader of the rebels—a man among mutineers.” Lord Cumberland said that she was the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders.
Her fascination among the natives has many roots. There have been novels and non-fictions aplenty, including one (Rani of Jhansi) by Mahasweta Devi; a great number of films and television serials, even a video game and countless folk tales, poetry and oral traditions. It’s a staggering amount of work. (all of which could be viewed here).
One of the more remarkable work is by Harleen Singh: The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History and Fable in India (Cambridge University Press, 2014). The book analyses gender, sexuality, race and religion in India through the prism of Rani of Jhansi. She was seen as the Indian Joan of Arc, a heroic and saintly spirit (A goddess, divine spirit, a Maa Durga in the eyes of worshipping Indians). During India’s freedom struggle, she seamlessly became a symbol of the nationalist cause, causing an outburst in Hindi novels and literature and kept her legacy alive. She became a metaphor of Indian daughter, mother, wife and queen of both home and nation. One who could be viewed from various prisms of nation, gender and identity.
Essentially, Rani of Jhansi captured the imagination of masses and their discursive tales: She was as much a Hindu revivalist of Maratha empire as she was owned by Dalits for the mass struggle she inspired against the British. She was something to everyone. I guess that’s the reason the destructive impact of Nehruvian philosophy couldn’t get to Rani of Jhansi despite her blanking in media and academia circles (just compare how the legend of Queen Padmavati was lampooned in English mainstream media recently).
Keep it alive folks, do a good job of it. For Rani of Jhansi is our glorious legend and heritage.