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  Opinion   Columnists  03 Jun 2023  Shashi Warrier | The coronation and the child

Shashi Warrier | The coronation and the child

Shashi Warrier has written fairy tales, thrillers, a semi-fictional biography, satires, and a love story. Besides writing, he teaches strategic communication at a business school.
Published : Jun 4, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jun 4, 2023, 12:05 am IST

Queen Camilla had chosen not to wear the Kohinoor, but the other jewels – the various Stars of Africa – were very much on display

Looking at the ageing couple on the throne, considering King Charles III’s unusual personal history, I couldn’t help agreeing how he’d need God’s help to save his job. (Photo: AFP)
 Looking at the ageing couple on the throne, considering King Charles III’s unusual personal history, I couldn’t help agreeing how he’d need God’s help to save his job. (Photo: AFP)

A young friend left his eight-year-old daughter Anjali with us for a few hours while he took his wife for a medical check-up at a nearby hospital. “We’ll be back as soon as we can,” he told her as they left. He turned to me. “I’ll call before we leave the hospital.”

“Sure,” I said. The little girl wasn’t in the least fussy and ate her lunch happily while I told her Kipling’s  story about how the elephant got its trunk. After that, she wanted to watch TV for an hour: that was how much her parents permitted her every day.

“What do you want to watch?” I asked.

Anjali named a few programs on channels I hadn’t even heard of. I had to say no, we don’t have those channels here.

“Want to watch horses all dressed up?” my wife asked her.

“Yes,” she replied, bouncing with enthusiasm.

“Let’s watch the highlights of the coronation,” said my wife. “She might like that.”

I thought it was a waste of time but Anjali seemed really keen on it so I agreed and we settled down on the sofa in front of the TV with the supplies of junk food and liquid refreshment that have become essential accompaniments of watching TV. At first I thought watching a foreign figurehead of a king being crowned was beneath me, but then, as I got into the programme, I found it deeply worthwhile.

Purely personal, of course. Let me explain. These days I feel like a dinosaur when I watch TV, and especially when people discuss phones or computers or modern cars or Artificial Intelligence and things like that. Here was a program that actually made me feel young. At the centre of the spectacle were and old couple in a horse-drawn carriage — something obsolete by even my standards.

The questions began soon after. “Oooooh! What a lot of gold!” Anjali said, looking at the uniforms and the yellow glitter all over the animals and the men in the parade. “Daddy told me they get gold out of the ground, so they must have a lot of it buried there.”

“Not really,” I said. “They don’t have much gold.”

“Then where did they get it from?” she asked.

Britain is a group of islands off the French coast, a group of islands with nothing much but coal, and, in more recent history, oil from the North Sea. Where, indeed, did they get the gold come from? From the colonies, of course. Mostly from us, and from Africa. “Well, they took it from other countries,” I said. “They used to rule a lot of other countries a long time ago, before you were born. They used to rule us, even.”

“But that’s not fair!” she said. “They should return it all!”

“Right,” I said.

“If it’s right why can’t we make them return it?” she asked. Persistent, like most children.

“They took it a long time ago,” I said, “before all these laws came up.” I couldn’t help being ashamed of myself, evading simple questions from a little girl, because there are lots of things the British have done in the recent past that leave me angry. Keeping Vijay Mallya out of an Indian jail, or the Queen — yes, this happened last year — or giving a known associate of Dawood Ibrahim something like the equivalent of India’s Padma Bhushan. This man apparently runs a charity that feeds hundreds of people, which they consider sufficient compensation for his other less praiseworthy activities.

There is, besides, the fact that they’ve joyfully laundered the ill-gotten gains of a whole lot of looters, ranging from Russian oligarchs to Colombian drug lords, so London can remain the financial centre of the world.

Anjali quieted down again, and I had to admit that the spectacle was impressive. Then the diamonds on the crown caught Anjali’s eye. “Where did those jewels come from?” she asked. “Did they steal those too? They’re showing off!”

Queen Camilla had chosen not to wear the Kohinoor, but the other jewels – the various Stars of Africa – were very much on display. “Yes,” I said, “those too.”

“From us?” she asked, indignation sharpening her voice.

“Those are from Africa,” I said. “They decided not to show off the one they stole from us. The Kohinoor.”

“Oh!” she said. “Why?”

“Because people are making a lot of noise, asking them to give it back, and they’re embarrassed about it.”

“Why don’t they just give it back, then?” she asked.

“Umm, that’s difficult,” I said. “We know it isn’t theirs, but we don’t know whose it is, Iran’s or Pakistan’s or India’s. And the British are happy to make us all fight so that they can hang on to the jewels.” They love doing that, watching other people fight and stealing from all of them.

“What about all those people there, cheering?” Anjali asked. “Don’t they know all this? Why are they cheering?”

“They don’t know,” I replied. “They haven’t been told.”

“When I grow up I’m going to go over there and teach the children all the bad things their kings used to do,” she announced.

Soon the coronation itself was done, the sceptre handed over, the crowns placed on the head of their majesties, and the words of the traditional song rang out, “God Save the King!”

Looking at the ageing couple on the throne, considering King Charles III’s unusual personal history, I couldn’t help agreeing how he’d need God’s help to save his job. And then it struck me that, with a king and queen like this, they should perhaps have sung, “God Save the Kingdom!”

Tags: padma bhushan, dawood ibrahim, vijay mallya