In common with millions in India, Britain, the rest of the Commonwealth and elsewhere around the world, I look forward to today’s marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
The Royal Wedding has captured the public imagination. Facts and figures about the scale of the occasion have come thick and fast. Experts predict that some 2 billion people will watch the event on TV, that 162 million internet pages have a Royal Wedding connection, and that every 10 seconds someone on-line writes about the occasion. On a lighter note (thanks to the Daily Telegraph), I have discovered that 26,000 tulips will be trimmed in front of Buckingham Palace on account of the recent fine weather in London, and 200 km of bunting will be sold in leading British supermarkets to decorate street parties up and down Britain, of which 298 will be held in Hertfordshire alone (one of Britain’s more compact counties).
The underlying point of such statistics is that the Royal Wedding will bring together people from across the world to celebrate the marriage of the young couple. As a country that is home to over 160 nationalities speaking over 300 different languages, there are a few, if any, better places than Britain to host such an event. London’s Heathrow airport, which already handles more international passengers than any other, will be buzzing. The 1,500-plus London-based correspondents of the world’s media will vie with their British counterparts to offer the best coverage. And even those 400 or so of the Fortune 500 companies that have operations in Britain may take a breather from business to enjoy the atmosphere.
Other events capture global interest in their own way, be it the US presidential election, the annual Hajj, or the Olympics (and international eyes will again be on London in the summer of 2012). But there is something unique about a British Royal Wedding. It is a major public occasion, but at the same time a very private moment. It demands a balance between honouring cherished tradition, while marking the day with something different and modern.
Given the deep ties between the people and cultures of our two countries, it should come as no surprise that there will be a significant Indian contribution to each of these public, private, traditional and modern aspects of the Royal Wedding. Some of the two million strong Indian diaspora in Britain will undoubtedly be at street parties or other events to enjoy the day alongside friends and neighbours. But there will also be an Indian contribution within the private sanctum of the family wedding celebration itself. The wedding cake — a centrepiece of the meal for family and select friends after the marriage service — has been made by Fiona Cairns, the wife of Kishore Patel, a Gujarati entrepreneur who is now managing director of the family’s high-class bakery business. And a further Indian contribution will be commemorative scarves, made by a Ludhiana-based company to classic, yet modern designs provided by a leading British fashion house.
But the real joy of the occasion is the coming together of family and friends to celebrate the prospect of a happy and successful life for the young couple. This is something that is immediately understood by every Indian family. For all the pressures of modern life, such as spending extended periods away from home, it is still family ties that bind. This is an enduring tradition and on clear display at every Indian wedding, festival and ceremony.
It will be these same sentiments that unite all those gathered in Westminster Abbey today, whether from Royalty, politics, celebrity, or simply friends such as Mr and Mrs Hasmukh Shingadia, whose family originated from Gujarat and now run the local shop in the village of Upper Bucklebury where the Middleton family lives.
Of course, this is the case for any wedding, but the nice thing about a Royal Wedding is that many more of us have the chance to join in. So let us all raise our glasses this evening to toast the happy couple.
( Richard Stagg is the British high commissioner to India )
The views expressed by the author are personal