The birth of George Alexander ‘Louie Louie/ O-oh no/ Sayin’ We Gotta Go Now’ Mountbatten-Windsor has brought good cheer to not only monarchists in Britain but to Brit royalty-lovers everywhere, Gentrified Gunga Dins (GGDs) in India included. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this sort of exuberance. A child born in a super-loaded family with history and a privy purse is almost as delightful as the continuing existence of an eccentric old man in the same family cracking jokes about China (“If you stay here [Beijing] much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes”) and Indians (“It looks as though it was put in by an Indian,” referring to a badly-fitted fuse-box). For who doesn’t like a hearty anachronism, especially when it flies in the face of those Facebook-thumping political correctness-walas.
But the love our GGDs have for the Buckingham Palace lot is more than just about following the goings-on in the large, somewhat less-than-entertaining British family that once provided a template for all genres of celebrity-watching, whether it be the nuptials of Abhishek and Aishwarya and the product of their loins, or the charming home video of Pamela and Tommy. It’s also about being overawed by a certain kind of ‘Britishness’ that now exists only in the minds of those who can’t get flashy about their Anglo-toffness in a post-St Stephen’s India lest they be accused of being a Tharoor. So cooing about the British royal family will have to do the job.
So where does this cross-stitch’n’ cricket variety of Anglophilia come from, eh? My theory is that for desi boys and girls of a certain vintage and social background, the British monarchy represents a certain kind of lost lifestyle, belief system, language and social skills, and aspirational behaviour that their elders openly displayed as proof of being treated as (almost) equals by the ruling class, who happened to be loyal-to-the-King White Britons. This notion was happily passed down to most Oxbridge-lusting, British history-mugging Indians right up to the late 80s, the last batch of whom roam the Earth today.
This particular brand of Anglophiles form the cultural flipside of all those Westerners who still associate India with ‘spiritual solace’ and bemoan the ‘materialism’ that has spoiled the country their hippie parents so loved. For starters, India’s elite is no longer confined to cucumber sandwich-eating. Or speaking in the kind of clipped English that would make even the little queenie in London suspect that the person’s having a laugh by mimicking her.
While many may still get misty-eyed watching the controlled cross-pollinations in The Jewel In The Crown, get excited when hearing Cliff Richard and other Golden British pop rubbish, conduct Pavlovian experiments on their kids with Enid Blytons and Billy Bunter books, and try to ensure that Sir Vidia is never uttered as ‘Sir Naipaul’ — or ‘Naipaul Sir’ — India’s new elite, even the English-speaking, Britcom-loving babalog, don’t care.
And why should they? Their memories of youth aren’t nailed to the taste of some Raj-era dish since extinct that was last savoured in a restaurant (also since extinct), or to a bar of soap from Crabtree & Evelyn that an aunt had brought from London when visiting Delhi. This Republic of Britain Manufactured in India barely exists today. The Britain that today’s desi Anglophiles are fond of is the Britain of the English Premier League, Jamie Oliver, Adele, single malts, Ricky Gervais and Benedict Cumberbatch’s absolutely-non-Victorian BBC Sherlock.
The clubs in colonial cities such as Kolkata still provide the occasional priceless spectacle of GGDs role-playing mid-20th century mems and sahebs. The sign next to the pool at the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club, an oasis for sanctified midday drinking I love visiting for the view of field’n’sky from the bar, contains a line that can only survive in pining-for-the Raj spots in the subcontinent: ‘No ayahs, servants and drivers are allowed in the pool area.’ We’re in Kipling country with brown sahebs playing Lord and Lady Asquith. In the hallowed Bengal Club, things are even more hilarious.
Britain has long moved on. The British have become more European, their holiday destinations being an indicator. Bond doesn’t care about how his vodka’s served. And instead of still mooning on about Wordsworth and how devilishly funny PG Wodehouse is, their literary lot got on the train that Philip Larkin brought into the station some time ago with ‘This Be The Verse’: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you.”
Which is why the remaining, unreplenishable GGDs find such comfort in the relics of Victoriana they are wardens of. But here’s a question: if so many of our old-style Anglophiles (rightly) find dynastic rule in India appalling — and it is scandalous that the Kerala government last week accepted the request of Calicut’s ex-royal family, the Zamorins, to grant its members a monthly pension of Rs. 2,500 — why do they get all wobbly-chinned when thinking of an institution in London that exists solely on the basis of blood-line? Huzzah for a jolly good puzzle fit for a nabob.