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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Slums, missing diamonds, Delhi Belly and other lessons from the royal visit to India

Slums, missing diamonds, Delhi Belly and other lessons from the royal visit to India

Thanks to the unavoidable coverage of the royal visit, here's what to learn from Prince William and Kate Middleton's India visit

Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, during their visit to Kaziranga National Park. Photo: APPremium
Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, during their visit to Kaziranga National Park. Photo: AP

Have you noticed a pall of gloom over the country since Wednesday? As if the sun has set on the Indian empire. After all, our Duke and Duchess have flown to Bhutan to add to that country’s gross national happiness. Yes, I did say ‘our’ Duke and Duchess, because that’s what it seems like, if you go by the enamoured tone of all that has been written about them in the Indian media on this five-day visit. You would never think that India is no longer part of the erstwhile British empire or that we were pillaged and plundered for centuries by William and Kate’s own ancestors. What’s good is that this shows how forgiving we are as a country—letting bygones be bygones.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand completely why a visit by the British royals deserves media coverage. And I think them visiting India will only help boost tourism to the country, especially since it underlines all the tourist tropes attributed to India. From wild animals to slum dwellers to cricket to Bollywood—and, of course, politicians.

I just don’t understand the giddy excitement and the general genuflecting tone of celebrities and journalists while meeting and speaking of the royals. But thanks to the unavoidable coverage of the royal visit, here’s what I’ve learnt from the visit.

Royalty meets royalty: William and Kate have shown us that they, like us, know what constitutes royalty in India. Which is why they met not our erstwhile kings and princes, but our cricketers, followed by Bollywood stars, followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The pecking order is important to note. After a spot of cricket, with Sachin Tendulkar bowling and Dilip Vengsarkar playing wicket-keeper, William and Kate attended an event filled with Bollywood stars and posed with various midriff-baring ladies who were all togged out in gowns. To give Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit their due, they were among the few who turned up in a sari. What I found more interesting than the attendees of the event at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was that the event, which was partnered with the British Asian Trust, was “to raise awareness and funds for a sustainable future". How? By raising funds for “partner organizations of the British Asian Trust (Prince Charles’ Charity) that work with disadvantaged communities in Mumbai and across India". How innovative. To come to India, to raise funds from Indians for a charity run by Daddy. Lessons learnt from their ancestors’ stay in India, I suppose.

The land of slums: How can a royal visit or a visit by any foreigner be complete without a Slumdog Millionaire reference? Therefore, William and Kate met some homeless children at one of the Salaam Baalak Trust shelters, and read and drew with them. They were pictured walking through narrow gullies with two Salaam Baalak city walk guides. The good news is that more people will know of the Salaam Baalak Trust’s great work now. The bad news, be prepared for slum tourism being a selling point for British tourists who visit India.

Off with their heads: Even if the royals are trying to underplay their royalness, we can’t seem to let them do so. So if William and Kate have refused to stay in the Taj Hotel’s Presidential Suite or have asked that the public not be stopped from visiting Taj Mahal at the same time as they are, we want to keep reminding them of their royal heritage. Which is why on Monday night, the British High Commissioner hosted a dinner for them—attended by 1,200 people. Many of whom also religiously posted Facebook pictures of the couple and the food – but left out the fact that they and 1,199 others attended the far from intimate dinner. The cherry on the cake was when William and Kate were to cut a cake to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday—because why shouldn’t we celebrate the British queen’s birthday in good old India. They weren’t given a knife to do so, but a massive ceremonial sword. Even they looked a little stunned by this madness.

Delhi Belly cuts across class: No one likes coming down with the runs while on holiday, including the Windsors it seems. What else could explain them being totally vegetarian on their tryst with history and their old fiefdom? Unless, of course, they are observing the Navratras, which is highly probable. While mahi tikkas and biryani have been dished out at the events they’ve attended (I know, because the menus have been religiously written about and tweeted out by royal-lovers), the duo have not touched any of it. In fact, Kate didn’t touch any of the food at the British High Commissioner’s dinner or even the dosa which William prepared. Not quite the stamp of trust for Indian food we’d hoped for. Or could it be that they’re not eating in memory of the Bengal famine, when, thanks to the British government under Winston Churchill, food supplies instead of reaching Bengal were sent to British troops? I’d stop eating if I knew my family was complicit in that travesty in any way.

Our media is no better than their media: Much like the British media following and religiously reporting every movement of the royal couple in India, the Indian media believes in doing the same. So much so that we proved that tabloid journalism isn’t the privilege of The Sun or Daily Mail. Which is why we outdid ourselves by publishing pictures of Kate flashing a bit of leg when her dress billowed up during their visit to the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate. The British tabloids are famous for publishing such photos, but in India we’d never do the same to any of our own celebrities—whether from the acting, sporting or the political fraternity. I frankly don’t think it was sexist, but it definitely was in poor taste and was the kind of reporting you’d expect frat boys to indulge in. Good to see that we’re borrowing the best from the West.

We are never getting back our diamond: I’m really surprised that not one person from the media or Narendra Modi has thought of mentioning our £100-million Kohinoor diamond, which is sitting in the Tower Of London, embedded in the Queen Mother’s crown. Feeding rhinos and petting elephants is fine and dandy, but wouldn’t that have been a really good back present for India from the royals? “Thank you for the sarson saag and the voyeuristic news reports, here’s that diamond we took away by force." Now that’s a statement that would warm the cockles of any plundered country’s heart.

But there I go being materialistic and unforgiving again. I suppose we should simply revel in the fact that our erstwhile rulers are not shooting any of our wild animals like last time, and that they’ve done what none of our celebrities do—visit the Northeast as a main stop on their very tight itinerary.

And don’t worry, tomorrow is another day. The sun will rise again on the Indian empire when the royals return to pose for that tourist must-have, a picture in front of the Taj Mahal. And do so while mixing with the hoi polloi, even if they refuse to eat our desi fare.

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Published: 14 Apr 2016, 02:28 PM IST
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