It could have been a thermometer entering an orifice, such was the love, bonhomie and competing martial music in the Wagah air. But it wasn’t. It was the queen’s baton being gently pushed into Indian territory on June 25 from Pakistan, a country that keeps getting kicked out of the Club Of ex-Colonies (COC) of the British Empire each time democracy (a prime requisite for COC member-States) is suspended there — coming back time and again to knock at the COC doors proclaiming, “Boss, let us in! We’re a democracy again!”
The Delhi COC Games Organising Committee Chief Organiser Suresh Kalmadi may have cut a dashing figure in his straw hat and purple and white threads in the Punjabi summer heat, but monarchists from Southall to South Extension are still upset that the queen’s skipping the COC Games opening ceremony on October 3, a day after a ‘dry day’ too, thanks to laws regarding celebrating my mum-in-law’s birthday. And the fact that the not-so-Bonnie Prince Charlie will be filling in won’t do. We’re not a nation of dabbawallas, Ms Windsor. As the head of COC, the queen should have at least sent a Corgi or two. But no. Instead of a couple of cute dogs that may have gone in heat in the Delhi heat, she sends Buckingham Palace’s resident David Hasselhoff.
Which makes me beg the question: why are we so besotted with being a COC member? Nirad C. Chaudhuri is dead and I’d rather have the lady from Uttar Pradesh with a handbag feted at the COC Games than some other lady with a handbag speaking the Queen’s English.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Britain (except its ludicrously overrated and subsequently exposed England Football World Cup squad). I’m even willing to accept knighthood if the queen purrs, after putting some roofies in my gin, “Rise, Sir Indrajit”. It’s just that, like the novelist Amitav Ghosh, I think that there’s something a bit embarrassing about wanting to be in a club whose rules state — not too overtly, of course — that you have to be an ex-colony, a colony or an independent country that keeps printing Queen Elizabeth II’s picture on its banknotes.
The COC Games, under the name of the British Empire Games, were first held in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada, with the great British colonies of Australia, Bermuda, British Guiana, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland and Ireland, along with England and Wales, taking part in it. Over the decades, the name tag kept changing as the Brit empire kept frittering away. I suspect it was for the benefit of Winston Churchill that COC was actually formed.
After all, the chomper had once said, “I will not preside over a dismemberment [of the British Empire].” The British Empire was rather rapidly ‘dismembered’ and something of a facesaver was required for the person who saved the world from learning the word, ‘Götterdämmerung’. So voila, COC was formed: a happy family of benevolent ex-imperialists setting up a thrift shop for former subjects with discount coupons.
If you think all this old history stuff is in the past and doesn’t matter, I’d love to see athletes from the former kingdom of Patiala get their asses kicked by athletes from the former kingdom of Cooch Behar in the Mehfil Games, the sporting event for only former Princely States and Britain.
But, if you’re under 20, forget all the history. (If above 20, you’ll do well to forget India’s false starts at trying to be a Grade A nation.) Would you think it’s kosher for a country to host the COC Games, or for that matter any event, that has the authorities telling us, natives (in the sense of citizens and not according to any old COC terminology) to stay away from the show, get out of town, or “better, stay at home” for 12 days? That’s what the Delhi Police Commissioner advised Delhiites to do, so as to bypass the closure of many roads for “the movement of vehicles carrying players and delegates” (and VIPs?).
My advice? Don’t get out of town during the COC Games if you’re a Delhiite. Get India out of COC. If the former British colonies in America have done without hanging out in this gymkhana club, surely, confident YiYiTee and YiYiEm-educated India can do without COC action. The gleaming flyovers, roads, airports and stadia are all almost ready. Who’s going to complain now? So let’s call off the COC Games politely.