What the Padmaavat Furore Teaches Us About Rajput Machismo

Social Commentary

What the Padmaavat Furore Teaches Us About Rajput Machismo

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arré

Over the past few months, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s personal nightmare has become the entire nation’s obsession. If there is anything at all to learn from the Padmaavat furore that is dominating the media, it’s this: You do not fuck with Rajputs.

See, a Rajput man has a great life and he believes in living it to the fullest until either one of his two prized possessions is challenged: The honour of his women and the greatness of his history. Both of these form the bedrock of his masculinity, and his masculinity is all that he lives by. That and his mooch, of course.

As a Rajput male, I was indoctrinated in the privilege of Rajput masculinity when I was about thirteen, on the cusp of manliness. Drinking with the men no longer involved tricking me into downing a shot of whiskey and laughing at the drunken child; I was expected to sit at the table and drink in a way that would make my ancestors proud. On a winter night in Alsisar, after one such session, my uncle decided to take me on a night ride in his Thar SUV (another prized possession, along with the women and history).

So off we went, banna and neophyte banna, reeking of whiskey and beer, on narrow roads in a massive car. Blinking to stop the spinning in my head, I thought I spotted a police check-post up ahead. I panicked, like the Mumbai boy I was. “Fuck, kaka! We’re drunk, and now they’re going to take your licence!” The guilt of being the one who convinced him to take the drive was weighing me down. But Kaka just smiled, adjusted his mooch in the rear-view mirror, and continued driving straight to the check-post.

The policeman who asked Kaka to roll down his window underwent a transformation as the glass slid. The sight of the mooch-sporting, Jodhpuri-wearing, Thar-driving Rajput banna transformed the small-town policeman from a straight-backed authoritarian to a simpering sycophant in seconds. A khammagani and a smile later, we were waved through and offered sharp salutes. That night, he left me with a pearl of wisdom, “Being a Rajput comes with certain privileges banna, don’t forget that when you go back to Bombay!”

I doubt the great chieftains and kings would find much to praise in the actions of today’s Rajput Karni Sena.

I may have forgotten it, but in the past few months it’s all come rushing back to me with threats of beheading Bhansali, mutilating Deepika, crippling Ranveer (I’m not sure why they’ve spared Shahid). This violence is the language of the Rajput. We take great pride in being India’s foremost martial race, a vanity that was further fostered by British admirers like Colonel James Tod. Unlike most of India, we wear our machismo and our love for meat and booze on our sleeves. Our houses still have antique shields and swords displayed on their walls and children are raised on stories and legends of Rajput valour and bravery, on the field of battle and off it. All they need is an excuse to bring it all out.

Last November, the rapper D Deva made a song called “Banna” and gave them just that. The unremarkable, Honey Singh clone track features lyrics extolling the devil-may-care rakishness of the banna lifestyle (“Banna party mein late, don’t underestimate”), but the video shows the banna’s baisaa having an extramarital affair while her husband is gallivanting around town. Once again, depicting a Rajput woman with any sexual agency of her own pricked at the Rajput male ego like a vintage katar, and D Deva got a taste of the Bhansali lesson: Nobody fucks with the Rajputs.

This lesson has been ingrained into me even though I lived in faraway Mumbai. As a boy, I was taught about how the hoary traditions of Rajput masculinity are worth preserving, even in the era of non-binary, non-conforming, post-modern, post-post, ultra-millennial schools of thought. Waqt badalta hai, rakht nahi badalta. Rajput glory rests on the vigour and chivalry of its men, and the servility and beauty of its women, and most orthodox Rajput families would like to keep it that way. But the fact is that Rajput masculinity needs to adapt to the new world. The answer isn’t in rejecting our identity like Sushant Singh Rajput did this January by dropping his last name, but rather in critically analysing it for what needs to be retained and what needs to remain in the glorious past.

There is something worth preserving in our archaic traditions. Sentimental as it might sound, if I step in when someone threatens a woman or stoop to touch my elders’ feet, it’s because I was raised a Rajput. Being born in a Rajput family comes with great benefits, and I am constantly aware of the privileges such a birth provides.

In light of that sentiment, I want to remind my people to remember another common piece of Rajput wisdom: Be proud of your ancestors, but also ensure that they would be proud of you. A rabid, screaming disembodied head on television is not a worthy successor to the great ranas of Rajputana. I doubt the great chieftains and kings would find much to praise in the actions of today’s Rajput Karni Sena. They’d be ashamed to hear of school functions being disrupted, school buses carrying two-year-olds being attacked, and vehicles being set on fire. To retain its regal sheen, Rajput culture needs to once more represent the best ideas of contemporary times, like it did during the bygone past.

So to my ancestors I would say, “Hukum, waqt toh badal hi gaya, ab rakht badalne ka samay aaya.”