Queen Padmavati and the talking parrot


Parrots are such beautiful birds with alluring green feathers and red beaks devouring guavas and chillies. In Brazil, I traveled to the Pantanal, a bird sanctuary in Mato Grosso do Sul state, and the Amazon forests where I saw parrots the size of ducks with plumage of bright red, orange, yellow and blue. They were a sheer delight to watch. They were never frightened and walked right up to you to be fed.

However, I never encountered any talking parrots in Brazil. Folklore has it that parrots in India can be trained to talk. In the 1980s, when I lived in a large villa in Jor Bagh, Delhi, I kept a pet parrot. It is said that parrots can be trained to talk in pitch dark. For many nights, I tried to teach my pet parrot to say “Hello”, but I failed miserably. Either he was a poor student, or more likely I was a miserable teacher.

Anyway I am glad I could not teach him to talk. Otherwise he may have blurted out some of my secrets to others. Some research work on the film Padmavati or Padmavat, which has led to much heartburn in India in recent months, taught me that the entire escapade started with a talking parrot in the 15th century.

The earliest mention of Queen Padmavati is in an epic poem, named “Padmavat” written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in the 15th century. The poem describes her as a beautiful princess of Singhal (Sri Lanka). The ruler of Chittor heard about her enthralling beauty from a talking parrot called Hiraman. This inspired the Rajput ruler to woo and win her hand and bring her to Chittor. Alauddin Khalji, the Sultan of Delhi, heard about her beauty and laid siege to Chittor to obtain her. Hence the entire episode is based on a 15th century poem and a talking parrot. Had the parrot not squealed about the pretty princess in Sri Lanka, the history of Rajasthan state and the fate of the filmmaker, Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, would have been different.

Now, the fuss around the release of the film Padmavat is a miserable reflection of the fractured times in India, due to the brand new assertiveness amongst some conservative groups.

Even before the film was released, groups indulged in demonstrations, protests, dire threats and pressured the government, censors, filmmakers and artists. Their grouse is that history has been distorted and that the movie is based on rumors and innuendos.

Whenever a movie is made on some slice of history or a notable personality, some artistic license is involved to make the movie viewable. As long as there is no distortion of facts or character assassination, we should not object to the work of an artist. We love the movie Mughal-e-Azam. But are we sure that Anarkali danced to the song, “Pyaar kiya to darna kya” in the presence of Emperor Akbar?

Again in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur, Judah and Messala part as enemies with Messala dying. In the 2016 version of Ben-Hur, they part as friends, with Messala in love with Ben-Hur’s sister. Which version do we believe? Filmmaking is an art and we should leave it at that.

Perhaps the principal protagonists in the agitating organisations found a platform to seize the public attention for some time.

Instead of agitating against the filmmakers, the demonstrators should be grateful to them. Had it not been for the film, many Indians would not have known of the name and sacrifices of Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor. The legendary Rajput Queen of the 13th-14th century committed “jauhar” (self-immolation) to protect herself from Khilji, the Muslim Sultan of Delhi. We should honor her memory, not fight with each other in her name.

Presumably, the wrath of the agitators is against the image of Queen Padmavati in particular and that of Indian women in general.

However, if we are genuinely concerned about the status of women, we need to explore means of stopping the death of many babies, whose only fault was that they were born girls and not boys.

According to Minister Mrs. Meneka Gandhi, “You have 2,000 girls who are killed in the womb every day. Some are born and have pillows on their faces choking them.”

This should preoccupy us Indians not a movie.

Rajendra K. Aneja

The author is the Managing Director of a management consulting firm.