So finally we left! Amidst much flag- waving and singing and speeches outside Parliament, the UK exited the European Union. For many of us it was a bit of an anti-climax as it felt like that the whole thing had already been done! After all, it is something we have talked about, discussed, moaned over for the past three years. Once 11 pm (midnight in Europe ) arrived on January 31, an image of the Big Ben was beamed onto 10, Downing Street, and the countdown ended. (The actual Big Ben is still under repair and so could not chime out the historic moment).
To be honest, I had expected all of the UK to erupt in celebration, but even though we were out and about, we found, ultimately, it was all normal in most parts of London, and our dinner was served by the usual Europeans. Of course, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had his own party to celebrate, and Nigel Farage was seen grinning ecstatically at Parliament Square in Westminster. But there were no fireworks, no flashing lights. In fact, one felt that our actual departure from the EU was quite subdued. This was even though the area around Whitehall was lit up in red, blue and white, and those celebrating sang “Rule Britannia” and draped the flag everywhere — including on their pets.
Some journalists old enough to remember said, somewhat wistfully, that joining the EU had evoked more excitement than this. And then let’s not forget that parts of the UK, such as Scotland, had voted to Remain…
Could the dreaded coronavirus also have been responsible for this quiet acceptance? After all, face masks have begun to run out in the city (even though they are felt to be quite useless against this deadly but tiny virus). People may have felt that it was too risky to be rubbing shoulders in a crowd, where anyone could carry an infection. And then, how do you take a selfie wearing a mask?
But our real attention is on Wirral, where 83 Britons who had been stranded in China are now finally quarantined. The interesting thing about their flight into the UK was that they were reportedly served chicken tikka masala…. now what could be the connection?
The bad news is that two Chinese, one of them a student, have been identified with the virus in York, and then sent off to Newcastle to an infectious diseases unit.
More bad news for viewers of The Crown — there won’t be any Meghan and Harry episodes as the series will pack up after the fifth season, which will have the stalwart Imelda Staunton playing the Queen. I won’t be crying into my baked beans, in any case, because I feel we have more than enough coverage of royalty in the UK, and we certainly could do with less. Interestingly, the real-life Queen always has been very gracious and allowed this constant mining of her and family’s life on screen, and on the Internet, without a fuss. I don’t know if she ever bothers to watch, but her stoic and stiff upper lip in these matters is remarkable.
One wonders if an upcoming exhibition on tantra in the UK will reinforce the stereotype of Indians as those “sex obsessed people” from the land of the Kama Sutra? The British Museum, by organising an exhibition entitled “Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution” has no doubt hit upon a unique idea to encourage footfall — after all, who wouldn’t like to come to an exhibition with plenty of naked people engaged in all kinds of activity? And at the same time, everyone can feel noble because this is meant for educational purposes only.
The exhibition will begin in April, and over five years of research have gone into collecting the 100 objects which will be displayed, many of which are from the British Museum itself. The curator, Dr Imma Ramos, says, according to reports: “The most important thing about tantra and what the philosophy is saying is that all aspects of existence are charged with divine power. We wanted to challenge the stereotypes that exist that it is just a hedonistic guide to sex.”
She does add that it was during colonial rule that tantra began to be looked upon as mainly being focussed on sex. She hopes that she can demonstrate through the exhibition that tantra was a means to reach a higher goal — and that the images, especially of Kali, were also used by revolutionaries during anti-colonial protests in the past.
At last, some of the hidden treasures in the British Museum will see the light of day, and in a modern context which explores “female power, gender fluidity, religious pluralism, mindfulness and well-being,” as the museum director Hartwig Fischer puts it, according to newspaper reports.
But the worry remains that much of this interpretation is still being done in the West — whereas it is about time that our museums in India began examining these Indian themes — and looking beyond the collections of the maharajahs.