Thursday, April 21, 2011

The king is dead. Long live the...

I grew up in a culture that was steeped in socialism. In an India, that was still toying with the egalitarian philosophy of  Ram Manohar Lohia and Vinoba Bhave, while trying to make sense of the finer differences between the communism of the Soviets and the communism of chairman Mao. No one had heard of free-market capitalism in those days; it was something that you could publicly scoff at, and be easily called an intellectual. And monarchy, was considered the ultimate form of pestilence, inflicted upon the common people, by the elite that wanted to make them work in the salt mines, while gorging on caviar and champagne.

So, when anything connected with "royalty" happens anywhere in the world, I tend to notice. Usually, with a sense of resignation, since I have never thought much of the people who are "royal" or those, who take an interest in them. Last week, I was looking at the news content from a few major media outlets. The ones, that common people like me tend to read. All over the anglophone world, newspapers are carrying reports of the impending royal wedding in Britain. CNN, which I don't think very highly of, has a front page section on the wedding. And the United States, which it primarily serves, has long been out of the clutches of the British empire. Long enough, that they don't even belong to the British commonwealth.

When I looked at the Indian media, there were references to the royal wedding indeed. But those news items were sandwiched between the stories of Bollywood damsels in scanty clothes and cricket players romancing them. And, we still have living people amongst us, who can recollect the union jack flying over their local town hall.

So, one wonders, why the Americans have such a fascination with British royalty? A few hundred years after they chased his majesty's redcoats to the Canadian side. By the dawn's early light.

I have always been fascinated by the American concept of democracy, as opposed to the British one that we adopted after they chose to leave. I like the republican spirit built into the American constitution, which does not place one man above another, and definitely not by invoking the divine powers. And so, I have never quite been able to explain the American fascination with British monarchy.

Is it something they miss, because they don't have it any more? Well, in that case, as fellow citizens of sister democracies, we Indians can provide them with psychological counseling that involves walking them through the various stages of grief. Denial included.

But, I have a more pedestrian theory about all of this. One that still reinforces my belief that the Americans have not given up on the republic. I believe that our friends, the nephews and nieces of Mr. Sam, are treating the entire British royal family as a gigantic soap opera. One, that would put "Dallas" and "The days of our lives" to shame. To them, watching all this on national television, is plain entertainment. And, to top it all, none of the expenses of running this elaborate, but somewhat vestigial part of the government, come from their tax dollars. As an ex-boss of mine, armed with a degree from the ivy league business school of cliches used to say, this is one goddamn piece of a win-win situation.

Isn't it?

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