Repositioning Meera | By Anup Singh Beniwal

The Book Review | May 5, 2021

India is a land of diverse opinions, interpretations and debates. It is a land of pluralistic but protean ethos. Herein history and hagiography, anecdotal and ideological, secular and sacred continuously coalesce and collide to configure and reconfigure its constitutive icons. In the process the icons often lose their existential/embodied moorings. They are rendered into representational sites where diverse voices converge and jostle for space. Meera is one such icon. She has also been subject to continuous evaluations and re-evaluations. Madhav Hada’s Meera Vs Meera, an English translation of his Hindi book Pachrang Chola Pahar Sakhi Ri (Vani Prakashan, Delhi, 2015), is a recent addition to this burgeoning corpus on Meera.

In this book, as is apparent from its title in Hindi original and its English avatar, Hada’s critical focus is on ‘rediscovering’ Meera in her ‘factual integrity’. For this purpose he simultaneously dives into oft-neglected but relevant vernacular history/resources of Rajasthan and Meera’s poetic corpus to contest the conventional, colonial and ideological stereotypes that have led to a profusion of Meeras around Meera in canonical, folk and popular imagination. Meera Vs Meera is not a simple rendition of the chronology of Meera’s life. Hada posits Meera as a complex but dynamic embodiment of her medieval moment and milieu. Besides reconstructing her life and times, Hada also shifts through later history—modern and postmodern—to scrutinize, in particular, the hagiographical (that construct Meera largely in terms of mystery, romance and mystique), colonial (the ‘convoluted’ version of her life story in James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan), and Marxist, neo-feminist and postcolonial mass-mediated representations of Meera (that compartmentalize Meera in binaries). The Meera that Hada finally excavates is one who mainly speaks through her own history and her poetry and not through the haze of hagiography or ideology. She comes out as an organic being rooted in her history yet continuously infringing on its constricting ethos. A feudal and a progressive, a devotee and a poet, an embodiment of passions and a dispassionate rebel, she is of her times and beyond her times.

In order to foreground Meera’s historical uniqueness and put her poetic persona in perspective, Hada often compares her with other bhakti icons. However, in his zeal to establish his Meera, he at times ends up simplifying the nuances of other bhakti poets. If Meera’s poetry, for example, gives full play to her passions, so does the poetry of other bhakti poets; they too ‘betray’ a certain sense of sensual indulgence when they talk about their yearnings for their god. But Hada either ignores this fact or simply glosses over it. Nevertheless, despite this comparative lapse, Hada’s book comes out as a rigorous and refreshing retake on Meera.

Hada’s reappraisal of Meera is significant for yet another reason. He ‘earns’ his Meera not only through her poetry, but also by adroitly tapping into the vernacular sources of Mewar and Marwar including the works of Bhat Kehardan and Daudan, besides khayat and bahis of the royals at that time. The way these resources have been interpreted and put to use in the book is commendable. It not only makes this book a labour of love for the writer but also an invaluable resource for the students of Meera. It in fact clears the ground for further research in the area and calls for digging deeper into similar and new resources.

Hada’s original has come out well in English translation. Pradeep Trikha, the translator of the book has astutely held in check the academic and scholar in him to render the original sincerely into English. He has in particular, grappled admirably with the idiomatic and colloquial in the original.

Anup Singh Beniwal teaches at the University School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.

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