Manikarnika – Caught in the Web of Expectations

Jyoti Shekar

Managing expectations is an important part of corporate culture, but I think it is equally applicable in our personal scenario as well. As much as we do not like when people start expecting more from us, we tend to do the same – burden others with our expectations!

Remember the time, when often during the prospective bride ‘seeing’ meetings, the girls were asked to sing and dance, but were told to stop the same, once the girl was married, keeping in mind the reputation of the family! A girl’s education and her degree were important, yet she was invariably asked to stay at home after marriage. On one hand, they were expected to be decently dressed, be shy with men and not get involved in financial decisions, yet at the same time, they were expected to dress well, entertain guests and take charge of home expenditures.

Oh, the irony of it!

This dichotomy crossed my mind while watching the movie ‘Manikarnika – the Queen of Jhansi.’ Brilliantly portrayed by Kangana Ranaut, the storyline is interestingly woven and highlights some of the issues that women faced at that time, and in fact, even today.

Manikarnika was a warrior who was taken care of by the Peshwa Baji Rao II. One of Jhansi’s ministers saw her in action and was impressed. He proposed that she marries the King of Jhansi, as Jhansi needed protection from the British rule.

When he puts forth his idea, the first question that got raised was ‘whether she would be good for the family!’ To which he replies, ‘I do not know whether she will be good for the family but she would be good for Jhansi.’

On that note, Manikarnika was married and renamed Laxmibai. Soon after her marriage, she was asked to stay in the kitchen and behave like a good wife.

The irony of it hits hard – to expect her to stay in the kitchen and then take her out to war when the need arose. I find it impossible that someone can be expected to switch roles so easily, so suavely.

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But then I realized, that is what we women have been trained to do, and that is what we do!

We nurture when required, we lead when needed, we fight when the situation arises and we are soft when we want to be. That is a superhuman power in itself, but sometimes too much to ask of a woman.

Indra Nooyi once said in an interview that she may be the leader of a multi-million-dollar corporation, but going back home, she was expected by her mother to be a typical homemaker and must ensure that the kitchen is well stocked and the family is well fed.

A lot of it has to do with our mindset.

When a male warrior is shown in the movies, he is shown as angry, upright with muscles and moustache with no traces of emotion. However, when a female warrior is shown, there are also scenes of her putting rangoli, applying makeup and playing with her girlfriends in her spare time.

It is almost as if a serious warrior type woman would be a threat to this male dominated society. This idea that women are vulnerable, fed diligently into our minds, itself is proof of the deep disparity that we have in our society. A disparity that has probably been intentionally introduced, with a notion to control and supress.

This takes me towards the end of the movie where Jhansi prepares for war against the British army. When Manikarnika decides to recruit female soldiers, her ministers question the wisdom of trusting a woman in war situation. For which she replies that

manikarnika 1

women have the most important responsibility of giving life, and there is no bigger deed than that. So, how can her right to lay down her life for the country be considered inferior to men’s. And, thus she goes ahead with her female force valiantly and fights the battle till the end.

Another ironical aspect of our culture that comes to fore in the movie is the fetish for control – King Gangadhar Rao feels helpless about the British invasion and hence takes to wearing bangles. However, it is a woman he comes to for helping him save Jhansi. It is Manikarnika from whom he extracts a promise before dying that she will save Jhansi. We can so easily relate this to life today. When someone wants to say something derogatory, they use a woman’s example. Yet it is the same woman they try to control, in fear of her overtaking them. In a way, they put her down, and at the same time, they give her the highest honour by being scared of her powers and capabilities.

What I find most inspirational about Rani Laxmibai is that she goes to war with her child on her back. It is the very personification of a woman multi-tasking and managing everything. If she could go to war with a child on her back, I am sure we can go to work in spite of home responsibilities, which should be shared anyway!

In the end, we should be able to choose what we want to do, without the pressure of doing everything we want to, and everything we are expected to, perfectly.

So probably it is time to take out a clean duster for the men at home and teach them to put on a pot of coffee for you when you get back home from work.

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