Curry and the Queen

Jun 05, 2012, 07:40 IST | Amit Roy

The British have gone a bit mad celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, marking her incredible 60 years on the throne. To help the average Indian, here is a, 'Q & A guide' to what is going on this weekend in the UK.

Hey there: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend the 'Big Jubilee Lunch' in Piccadilly in London

Should you Google ‘The Queen’ to find out more about the person at the centre of this big tamasha?
What you will get is plenty of material on the 2006 film, The Queen, starring Helen Mirren as Her Majesty. Some said her acting was so good that she was more like the Queen than the Queen. Anyway, the role earned her a much deserved Oscar. But when she returned to Heathrow from Los Angeles after her moment of triumph, she could be seen pulling her own luggage. I can tell you that won’t happen in Mumbai! Even Mallika Sherawat does not do that when she comes back from Cannes, having wangled a ticket and “walked on the red carpet” (like 2,000 other guests every night) but pretending she “walked the red carpet” (an honour extended to the director, producer and stars of the film being screened). Actually, it’s not such a bad idea looking at The Queen, the film, not her indoors at Buckingham Palace. The movie tells of events that nearly brought down the British monarchy following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997. There was a wave of public anger against what was deemed the uncaring royal family, some of it directed against the Queen herself. For example, the royal standard was not lowered over Buckingham Palace and the Queen refused initially to come down from Balmoral, her estate in Scotland, while Diana’s body lay “cold and lonely” at St James’s Palace in London.

Boat vote: A row boat 'Golden Gear' lines up for the start of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in London. Pics/AFP

So cruel!
But the royal family is nothing if not pragmatic. No matter that Diana had gone a bit loopy towards the end of her life. The adoring millions heaped a mountain of flowers outside the gates of Kensington Palace, where she had lived, and Buckingham Palace, where she had become persona non grata following her divorce from Prince Charles. For a while, the battle lines were drawn between the pro-Diana public on the one hand, and the royal family, represented by the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on the other. In the end, the Queen flew down from Scotland, lowered the flag over Buckingham Palace and inspected the messages left with the flowers. Her gesture saved the monarchy—now enjoying unprecedented popularity.

You mean the same public, which was 100 per cent against the monarchy, is now 100 per cent for the monarchy?

Flags fly high: Spectators waving Britain's Union flags wait near Tower Bridge during the Diamond Jubilee river Pageant on the River Thames in London 

Isn’t that a little fickle?
In a word, yes. Writers, commentators, politicians, even Lefties, are now rushing to say how wonderful the Queen is.

Is she wonderful?
Yes, without a doubt. Indians have only one thing against her—two, actually. She could not be bothered to attend the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010, though it is rumoured she changed her mind about going once she learnt Suresh Kalmadi was in charge of things. She had also met Pratibha Patil on her state visit to the UK in 2009 and wisely kept her personal opinions about her opposite number (ie head of state) in India to herself. What Indians cannot understand is why the Queen, who is 86, which is pretty amazing given the number of functions she attends—some merely boring, others very, very boring — has felt unable to wear a sari during her long reign. For one thing, she would look good in it—as post-baby Aishwarya did in Cannes this year, in an enveloping Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla creation. We can be sure the boys could knock out something suitably regal for the Queen.

Mask-e-rade: A boy wears a mask portraying Britain's Queen Elizabeth while waiting near Tower Bridge for the start during the Diamond Jubilee river Pageant in London on June 3, 2012

Any other bad thing to say about the Queen?
No, though some people say she has been a great Queen but a rotten mother. Why else did the marriages of three of her four children - Charles, Anne and Andrew—end in divorce? That's because they never got a hug from their mother. Perhaps they hardly ever saw their parents who left their bringing up to their nannies, it is alleged. To counter this allegation, the royal family has just released some black and white photographs and archival film which show the Queen playing with her children like a normal mother.

Ok, but what are the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations all about?
Marking 60 years of the Queen’s reign, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations will centre around an extended weekend on 2, 3, 4 and 5 June. The Queen came to the throne on 6 February 1952 and her coronation took place on 2 June 1953. She celebrated her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977 and her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002.

Has she been a good queen?
She has been near perfect. In 60 years —only Queen Victoria ruled longer by four years — she has scarcely put a foot wrong. She is only a constitutional monarch but she has a private weekly meeting with the prime minister of the day. She gets red boxes sent daily stuffed full of official papers — and she makes a point of reading them and being kept informed. She has travelled the world flying the flag for Britain but never stooping to ask for a contract. She has remained amazingly healthy, possibly because she takes her Malvern drinking water with her. She recognises that financially Britain is not what it used to be. She had a private yacht, the Britannia — it came to Bombay once — which has had to be scrapped to save cost. It is said that she hates waste and even goes round Buckingham Palace at night switching off unnecessary lights. You asked how Britain has changed in the six decades that Elizabeth Alexandra Mary (born April 21, 1926 in London) has been Queen. She is head of the Commonwealth — she has a good memory and knows many of the leaders by their first name. She is keen on the Commonwealth and once had differences apparently with Margaret Thatcher, who wanted to cosy up to South Africa and remove sanctions against the apartheid regime.  To be sure, on her trips abroad, she acts on behalf of the British government and what she says or doesn’t say, is determined by the Foreign Office. But she does the job of representing Britain elegantly and without ever upsetting the foreigners that she meets. It’s quite a gift.

What did she make of Pratibha Patil?
I would rather not answer that question if you don’t mind. All I will say is that she went out of her way to provide vegetarian fare for her guests at the big Windsor Castle banquet. so the Queen was very hospitable. She also showed the Indian president Queen Victoria’s sketchbook and her efforts to learn Urdu from her personal assistant Abdul Karim, the “Munshi”?

And how "personal" was her "personal assistant"?
You are now being vulgar. Ask me about the Diamond Jubilee celebrations?

OK, please tell me about the Diamond Jubilee celebrations although I would much rather ask you about whether Prince Philip has always been a faithful husband. I mean having to play a subservient role to the Queen must be difficult for a macho man who came originally from Greece, I believe?
The Queen often pays tribute to Philip who apparently calls her “Lilibet”. She says she couldn’t have done the job without his support. There have been reports he has cast glances at other women but these have remained unsubstantiated rumours. Should I catch a flight for London even at this late stage? Definitely, come over. There will be literally thousands of street parties all over Britain, which is festooned in Union flag bunting.

I thought Britain was broke?
It is broke which is why the celebrations are to cheer people up. The food at the parties will be typically British food — pork pies, crisps, tiny cubes of cheese with bits of pineapple — that sort of thing. The wisest thing is to look out for the Indian parties — there will be always be samosas there. It is worth pointing out Britain was, sadly, a samosa-less country in 1952. In six decades the Indians have given Britain entrepreneurship, family values, desi cuisine — and double bookkeeping.

What about the pageant on the Thames?
On Sunday June 3, over one 1,000 boats mustered on the River Thames in preparation for the Queen to take part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. It was one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the river. Rowed boats and working boats and pleasure vessels of all shapes and sizes were beautifully dressed with streamers and Union flags, their crews and passengers turned out in their finest rigs. The armed forces, fire, police, rescue and other services were afloat and there was an exuberance of historic boats, wooden launches, steam vessels and other boats of note. At St Paul’s Cathedral, a service of thanksgiving is the highlight of today, Tuesday which ends with the Queen standing on Buckingham Palace’s balcony greeting the tens of thousands expected to fill The Mall. Prime Minister David Cameron, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and other senior royals will join prominent individuals from the UK and abroad at many of the events.

When does Prince Charles take over?
Not until his mum passes away which people hope won’t be for many years yet. Charles, who is 63, may be nearly 80 by the time he takes over. Nor can Prince William leapfrog the succession as some people want. Succession is only on the death of a monarch.

When Charles becomes King, won’t Camilla become Queen?
Possibly even though people haven’t forgiven or forgotten that Camilla was involved with Charles even when he was still married to Diana. When the Queen passes away, the monarchy won’t be as strong as it is now. So, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations are really an attempt to strengthen the institution of the monarchy.

Now that you mention Camilla, doesn't she have a sari?
Absolutely — the dabbawallahs of Bombay gifted her an extra long green silk sari when she became Bibi No 2 to Prince Charles. It has been pushed to the back of the wardrobe.

She should wear have worn it
I think you should come to London and suggest it in person — and pick up another sari from Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla for the Queen.

What about in the colours of the Union flag — red and blue?
That would be so patriotic — you sure you are not a genius designer?

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