There is the frivolous and there is fun. Though joined at the hip by the Thesaurus, frivolity is not always fun as recent events like the Padmavati pandemonium suggest. In the grim scenario where terrorism stalks the world, and England is constantly watching over its shoulder for the next Council House immigrant to set off a bomb on the Tube, something fun is happening in the British capital. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting hitched.
The union is a break from form, since 1936 when the lovestruck Edward VIII had to give up the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. In 2017, another divorcee has snagged a royal, and a mixed-race Hollywood divorcee at that. Buckingham Palace seems no longer stuffy on tradition and the Queen is chuffed at her grandson’s choice. At least, as a news report says, her dogs took to Meghan straight away. Royally cryptic, but ‘love me love my dog’ seems to be British mood of the day.
Harry’s father Charles had married Camilla Parker-Bowles in a low-key ceremony, so unlike his glam wedding to the glorious Diana, simply because they were both divorcees.Wonder what Meghan would have to tell her future dad-in-law. Moreover, she is Catholic. King Henry VIII, who treated his wives’ heads as dispensable products, had broken away from Rome over a divorce. Had Meghan lived then, she could have lost her head literally for losing her head over Harry.But all that was in another time, another place. The Queen’s English is no longer what it was when spoken in the hallowed halls of Eton and Trinity when the empire runners ruled the world. Now Harry is a homey. A prince in the hood.
As the British have their fun over numerous mugs of ale on the new princely turn, Indian royalty is a topic of much nationalist angst. The irony is that our kings did enjoy much fun and frivolity after the British took away their thrones. They continued to live in magnificent palaces and forts—some of them are ultra-expansive hotels now—and engaged in bizarre frivolities.
The Nizam of Hyderabad is reputed to have a gold-plated commode in his Rolls to eat boiled eggs over. The Rani of a certain South Indian kingdom had the shell of her pet tortoise embellished with gems from Cartier of Paris. The Raja of Junagarh threw lavish wedding parties for his prize hounds. Then there were the swashbuckling kings who played cricket and golf, or were officers in the British Army—a shame considering their English generals would not have possessed the pedigree of their horses, while their own order was decided by gun salutes.
Of course, our kings did fight the British and the Mughals but it wasn’t as simple as that. Many of them sided against their own compatriots on behalf of the occupiers for the sake of local geopolitics or just envy. History is not a paperback tearjerker with patriotism as a unipolar narrative.
Hence, let us ease up. Indians take offence too easily. Taking offence is a political reality now. Let’s abandon these frivolities that parade as serious social issues for a bit and examine history for its fun parts. When angst over beef cutlets in Nagaland and ravaged queens in Rajasthan smother the mind, think of Gandhi naming his bullock-driven car ‘Ox-ford’. The Father of the Nation, in the midst of his grim struggle against the world’s most powerful empire, could have some fun in the middle of satyagraha. Why can’t we?