What we can learn from Kashibai about relating and relationships

Don’t cling on to any relationship that makes you unhappy. Just step out and free yourself!
I watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s (SLB) epic historical Bajirao Mastani earlier this week. True to SLB’s style it is awe-inspiring for its grandeur, finesse and story-telling. The film recounts, with some cinematic liberties taken, the story of Bajirao I (played brilliantly by Ranveer Singh), the Peshwa (Prime Minister) of the Maratha empire, between 1720 and 1740. In this time, while on the one hand Bajirao leads the expansion of the Maratha empire across the North, South and East of India, he takes Mastani (an amazing performance by Deepika Padukone), the daughter of the King of Bundelkhand, as his second wife. In the backdrop of the political compulsions that govern the Life of the Peshwa, SLB’s Bajirao Mastani tells the story of the unbridled love between Mastani and Bajirao – even as Bajirao’s first wife, Kashibai (a solid portrayal by Priyanka Chopra), comes to terms with losing her husband to this “other woman”. SLB’s work, as usual, is pure poetry on screen. The romance between Ranveer and Deepika makes Bajirao Mastaniseem so real in front of your eyes – as if you are in the 1700s, in Pune, in the midst of the Maratha empire.
But the real hero of the story, according to me, is Kashibai. For a simple reason – she operates, all through the narrative, from her core of inner peace and as who she believes she is. Yes, she is shocked when her husband falls for the aggressive and maniacally-brazen Mastani – who, to compound matters for the staunchly Hindu Maratha society, is a Muslim! So, Kashi does grieve initially. But she soon chooses to stand her ground. She has done no wrong. She has caused nothing to warrant losing her husband to the “other woman”. It’s her husband’s choice. In one epic scene in her personal chamber, where Bajirao goes to take her leave before embarking on his final military mission, Kashi tells him not to ever come back to her room – meaning, to her! There was no drama as Kashi expresses herself. There was just a firm, stoic, acceptance of what is and a decision to move on – “you have another woman, that choice is unacceptable to me, we don’t relate to each other anymore, so, let us separate.” Even when she rushes to his side later, as he lies ailing, she has this clarity that she’s there as a caregiver and not as one necessarily in a relationship. And that perspective that SLB brings out, and which Priyanka beautifully portrays, offers a key learning for all of us.
The tragedy with most marital relationships is that they try to lock in, actually hold as hostage, people within a legal and social framework. Just because you are married to someone, you have to suffer that person for the rest of your Life – however disenchanted that person may be from you or however distant you may have drifted away from that person. There’s nothing wrong with marriage as a concept – except that the way it is insisted it is practiced has rendered it totally useless. The truth is, over time, everything and everyone changes. The circumstances in which people come together change. Biologically people change – with ageing. Emotionally people change. So, like Bajirao, people get drawn to new liaisons. To be sure, Bajirao here is not a gender-specific metaphor. There are so many contemporary women who seek meaning in companionship outside of their marriage – and there is nothing wrong with it. They key is not to feel trapped. It is important not to suffer. And Kashibai teaches us how not to suffer. She can’t relate to a philandering husband, she can’t accept her man sharing “love meant exclusively for her” with another person. Simply, she can’t relate to her new ‘Peshwa’. So, she divorces him by banning his entry into her chamber.

Kashi’s must not be as a reel-Life choice. In real Life too, indeed, it is so, so simple. If you are caught in a relationship that’s making you unhappy, just step out of it. Be open. Have an honest conversation with your spouse and opt out. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about such a choice. In fact, it is grossly unjust only when you kill your inner peace and happiness only to protect a relationship – per a social and legal definition – which is long dead, which is, seriously, not there anymore!