Interview: Jyoti Jafa, author, Meera, Sanga and Mewar
Why do people continue to be moved by the story of Meera who lived in the sixteenth century?
Meera was a Rajput princess born into a heroic warrior milieu. Her life was focused on Krishna bhakti, and she was a master of shringaar ras. She moved beyond boundaries and conventions. She wrote delightful poetry, and sang beautifully. Her bhajans continue to be sung by folk and classical singers. She was in one-to-one communication with Krishna. Her life choices were respected and encouraged by her grandfather Rao Duda of Merta, her father-in-law Rana Sanga of Mewar, and her husband Crown Prince Bhoj Raj.
Please tell us about the research that went into this book.
I am 78 years-old now, and writing this book has been one of the greatest joys in my life. I was born and raised in Bikaner, and I take great pride in my ancestry. I come from the forts and palaces of Rajasthan. My fascination with Meerabai is connected to our shared bloodline, and my lifelong immersion in Rajput history, traditions and customs. My research included reading books, going through archival records, and having conversations with Meera’s descendants. I also travelled to various places connected with Meera, such as Merta, Chittorgarh, Vrindavan and Dwarka.
How was your experience of uncovering this history?
I have been a voracious reader since childhood. I have read the history of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Europe, and the Ottoman empire. While working with Rajput history, it was important to cross-check. One cannot fool around with historical facts. Since I am from an aristocratic family, I could just pick up the telephone and request access to source material. I was welcomed with open arms. People have seen my work on the books Nur Jahan (1994), Really, Your Highness! (2000) and Royal Jaipur (2008), all of which delve into history. That adds to my credibility.
Bhoj Raj has previously appeared as Maharaj Kumar in Kiran Nagarkar’s novel Cuckold (1997). In the book, he comes across as a jilted, insecure husband deprived of his wife’s love. But you see Meera and Bhoj Raj as fellow seekers and intellectual equals. Would you agree?
Let’s not talk about that book. I could not read beyond two pages. One cannot write about these relationships without a deep spiritual understanding of karma and reincarnation. Bhoj Raj was clearing his past karma. He owed Meera some service from a previous incarnation. Meera refused to commit sati after his death because her divine consort was always Krishna. Against the prevailing customs of that time, Meera moved to Vrindavan, then Dwarka, dedicating herself to Krishna bhakti.
If your novel were to be made into a film, who would you like to see as Meera? MS Subbulakshmi and Hema Malini have played this role before. Which actor would you choose?
I was not particularly impressed with how Meera was presented in those films. She was really one of a kind. Her story is one of mystical devotion and great valour. My Meera would be ethereal and elegant. Any filmmaker who wants to adapt the novel will have to sign a contract with me, and consult me on the cast, locations, interior design and costumes. If they cannot conceptualize the Rajput way of life, the film would be sloppy and tacky. I cannot allow that.
How would you like Meera’s legacy to be remembered?
Meera was steeped in bhakti yoga. She had past life recall. She honoured every faith. She found Vrindavan utterly distasteful because of the pretentious pandits there. Dwarka is where she merged with Krishna. It was unsafe for women to travel such long distances but she was fearless. She knew that her Krishna would look after her, come what may. He had made a promise to her, and he would fulfil it.
Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, educator and researcher. He is @chintan_connect on Twitter.