Padmavati or Queen Padmini of Chittor.

The controversy that’s been raging in India for a whole month lit a fire under me and made me find this portrait of Queen Padmini or Padmavati from my archives.

The lore tells us of a beautiful Srilankan princess who crossed the Indian ocean to be with her husband and beloved Ratansen, the king of Chittor.

Recently, a Bollywood period-drama based on the life of Queen Padmavati found itself in choppy waters, presumably for tinkering with history. The movie, say those who claim that their sentiments were hurt, shows the queen dancing. A queen who tread such high moral ground that she not just immolated herself but led all other women of Chittor into the funeral pyre to ensure they died with their dignity intact, couldn’t stoop so low as to dance. They are also of the opinion that the movie shows some romantic moments between that creepy invader Khilji and Queen Padmavati, which the producers say, actually show Khilji fantasizing about the queen.

There are too many moot points.

  • Whether or not there was actually a queen called Padmini who was actually a Sinhalese princess the tales of whose beauty had driven Ratansen to cross the ocean and go to Sri Lanka to marry her and bring her back?
  • Who is right? The movie-makers or the movie-attackers?
  • Why we still hear of nose-chopping and head-lopping as the right way to set matters of honor straight?
  • How the freedom of artistic expression be curbed “slowly?”

I’m sure the list is longer than my tired brain can produce.

Queen Padmini Padmavati portrait of her reflection in mirror - Alauddin Khilji's attack on Chittor.

A Portrait from the Mists of Time – Queen Padmini of Chittor (Size: 18″ x 22″, Medium: Graphite Relief Work, Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved.

Actually, upon reading the stories, I do believe that they are more fantastical than historical. (A question that keeps perplexing me is what happened to the children of the women who immolated themselves? There’s no mention of children anywhere. In the days of the yore, I’m sure that in the absence of any birth-control measures, children were aplenty.  Silly question, I know. Yet, I’d like to know how they were whisked away from a fort that lay under siege for so long that people had begun to starve.)

Anyway, the long and short of the Padmavati story is that eventually the dust would settle. The movie-makers will find a way not only to salvage their 300 Cr. investment but also to make it bear fruit. It’s only a matter of time.

In the meantime, lose yourself in the lore of Padmini.

Short Story – The Goldfish Princess (Illustrated with an Oil Painting on Canvas)

The Goldfish Princess

She turned her side and the heat of her body rushed to embrace the cold surface of the bed. This was why she had been postponing the moment until her muscles had begun to cramp. The cold, she thought, would one day freeze the blood flowing in her veins, and when that happened, her frozen blood would expand to first crack and then blast open her veins, quite like the water that upon turning into ice, cracked the pipes.

With sleep having fled from her eyes, she lay on her left side, letting her warmth seep out of her body and warm the cold sheet under her. She could have remained in the sunny climes of her homeland, but then she would have been sleeping on the pavement and begging on the streets. Here she was a princess.

Oil painting on canvas - Princess with gold tail - caricature and portrait art in india by portrait artist shafali

The Goldfish Princess – Oil on Canvas, Size: 13.5″x17.5″

Almost a princess.

The faces around her, all white, all different from hers, closed upon her from all sides, like a wall. They smiled and they talked. They talked in a foreign tongue that she couldn’t yet understand completely. They were kind to her, and they gave her a bed to sleep in.

Back home, Mother would be thinking that her daughter was a princess too, and so would all the uncles and aunts and neighbors who lived in the dirty threadbare tents that they had hitched upon the pavements. Back home, back at the pavement, they thought of her as a princess with a tiara upon her head.

Perhaps they were right. She had a roof upon her head. A roof that the wind couldn’t blow away. She had clean clothes on her back, so what if she had only two changes. One to wash while she wore the other. And she slept in a bed. She had a trunk to keep her things in, and a hopper window that she could open to let sunlight in when the sun was almost about to set on the western horizon, except that she was usually busy in the kitchen at that time of the day.

Upstairs, the kind man and woman, and their children, they slept in heated rooms, and they went out, everyday. The children played out in the sun, the woman wore new dresses everyday. They listened to music, they watched television, they played, and talked, and shopped, and did everything that she wanted to do along.

As she fell asleep again thinking of the pavement and the tiara, she wondered how long would it be before the four a.m. alarm went off. The woman, her mistress, was not cruel until the girl caused her grief, and her mistress liked to see the house sparkling clean when she woke up at seven.

And the goldfish had to be fed too.

Kindred souls.

Discovering the Artist within me (Part IV) – I am what I think.

I am what I think, and because art is an artist’s expression, my art too would have a bit of me in it. If it has then by logical extension, my art is my thoughts. When my thoughts stretch beyond the realm of cognitive thinking and spill over its boundaries, they become my feelings and emotions, so my art should also be my feelings and emotions. This is why my art would be the outcome of my past interactions with the world, for they shaped my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Some of these are buried in my subconscious, but most live in a twilight zone that exists between my conscious clarity and my sub-conscious nebulosity.

In my paintings, I sometimes return to caricatures. Mostly because the watered down version of reality that we often deal with in our lives, doesn’t let us experience life completely. Evil exists, and often its darker than black. Goodness too exists and sometimes it brighter than white. We usually choose to experience life in moderate shades of gray.

The Darkest Grays and the Deepest Blacks

A boy we’ve known from childhood can be a little wayward, but he cannot be the rapist who pulled out the entrails of a girl he violated. A bow-legged nephew who is always so charming in his manners, cannot be a pedophile who molests a woman’s daughter. An eighty year old frail woman couldn’t have gotten her sons beaten black and blue by her husband because she liked seeing her husband beat his sons whom she had hated bearing.

We choose not the believe the darkest grays and the deepest blacks, because believing would lead us to question everything around us, and our virtual safety bubble that allows us to sleep peacefully at nights, would vanish.

The Lightest Grays and the Brightest Whites

We also raise eyebrows when a billionaire decides to spend his billions in research and development that doesn’t turn his billions into trillions but helps the masses that hang from the cliff of their existence by their fingernails. We don’t trust his good intentions. We find ourselves at a loss of words when a client doesn’t try to bargain our skin off our backs.

We see the hand of God at work when anyone goes out of his or her way to help, because such bright and light grays and such brilliant whites appear impossible in our imperfect human world.

I think that as an artist I attempt to capture these two ends of the human spectrum, for what lies in the middle is a diluted version of life. I believe artists must think and feel, and then reach out to pull the two ends into their work.