Natural Born Killers

December 17, 2008


Pride is to Rajputs what Manolo Blahniks are to Imelda Marcos. Their most prized possession.

Rajputs are a ruling caste of royal warriors and landowners. Their ancestral home is Rajasthan, formerly known as Rajputana. But you also find large communities of Rajputs in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. However, the largest concentration of them in a big city is probably in Jaipur, where I am lucky to live. I have a lot of Rajput friends and I never tire of asking them about their history. Dumbfounded by their utter confidence in their natural superiority, I have read a bit about their history, which is, indeed, pretty martial.

The Rajput warriors superiority on the battle field is still boasted about today by their great-great-great-grandsons, whose idea of re-enacting it usually involves an air rifle and a pigeon. Their ancestors did leave a mark as natural born warriors, but any contemporary western-educated historian would, I think, question their s0-called war-genius. It is commonly admitted that an exceptional warrior stands out by his intelligence of the battlefield and the clever use he makes of his troops and the equipment at his disposal. I am no historian, but I guess if we follow this criterion, Gengis Khan was probably the greatest warrior of all times, with Alexander, Cesar and Napoleon not far behind.

Now, the Rajput way to fight a war was quite different : they would wear their lucky saffron-colored tunics (because everyone knows luck plays a big role on the battle field), drink a gallon of bhang or any other opium-laced beverage and, stoned out of their heads, would throw themselves, on their galloping Marwari horses, against the enemy lines. They must have been a pretty scary sight. And they did some serious damage. They were extraordinarily reckless, an they were feared because they had no fear. But extraordinary warriors?

However, that doesn’t stop the Rajput community to constantly refer to their illustrious war skills. I even heard a man fight with his American business partner and tell him to lay off because he was “a Rajput, and (he) fought wars”. No kidding.

I was researching the other day about Chittorgarh, the biggest fort in Asia, located in southern Rajasthan. All the articles I read say that Chittorgarh is an impregnable fortress, the emblem of Rajput’s superiority and bravery at war. It has, they say, been sacked three times, but never defeated. I was confused. How can a fortress be sacked if it hasn’t been defeated first? Well, apparently, “defeat” doesn’t exist in Rajput vocabulary. Whenever Chittorgarh lost, instead of surrendering, they’d commit jauhar. Jauhar means mass-suicide. It is often mistaken with sati, the traditional self-immolation of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. But jauhar is very different, mainly because it involves many, many more people. In the sixteenth century, when the Sultan of Gujarat took Chittorgarh, no less than 13,000 women and 32,000 men committed suicide. Putting it back in the context, the dwellers of the fort, had they surrendered, would no doubt have been raped, tortured, murdered. Quite understandably, they’d rather die.

However, this is not the point. What I found extraordinary is the fact that nowhere have I managed to read that Chittorgarh had been defeated. 45,000 people died of their own hands, but don’t worry proud Rajput, you did not lose.

Strangely, questioning their history is off-limits. It is actually quite funny. If I said what I just wrote to pretty much any Rajput, I swear he’d actually smash my head against the nearest wall.

I guess it is because their past is all they have. They aren’t a community known for their entrepreneurial skills, or academic prowess. They hardly is any Rajput in the bureaucracy, and they aren’t intellectuals either. They usually live off their family palace, which they have converted in a hotel.

Rajput dinner parties are, like everything in Rajasthan, segregated. Men on one side, women on the other. Rajput women’s favorite topic of conversation is, of course, who was, is, or will be getting married to whom. Saris come second, Louis Vuitton handbags, third. So like me you’ll probably think forget it, I can’t bear this, let’s talk to the guys. They might be a tidy bit wasted, but at least they are entertaining.

Well if you do get bored, here are a few tested lines who will never fail to spice up the table talk:

Is it true that Rajputs have actually never won a war?

Probable answers: a string of abuses and what the hell do I know about war, have you French people not lost to, ahem, you know, what was this German fellow’s name?

I think Indian men should all see a shrink.

Experienced reactions: they all choke on their lal maas, threatening to turn the dinner into a jauhar, and, once they have recovered, explain me at length how shrinks, you know, are doctors for mentally unstable people, which, I say, is precisely what I meant.

Since all the Rajput rulers gave their daughters away to marry Mughal princes and kings, does this mean you guys have Muslim cousins?

One man dies of an instant heart attack, three vomit and the last one plants his fork into my heart.