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|Volume 11 |Issue 23| June 08, 2012 ||
British Monarchy Showcased
Shah Husain Imam
The pomp, pageantry and élan of the celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years of reign on the river Thames last Sunday made a unique landmark in 300 years of British monarchy. These have 'surpassed' the diamond jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria's reign in the optical illusion, if you like, of some historians of British royalty. Let's not forget, Queen Victoria presided over an empire but the present Queen is head of a loosely knit Commonwealth.
The tonal difference between then and now is quite obvious; Queen Victoria's was colonial in temper but the pageantry associated with Queen Elizabeth has been interactive with people and the media.
The British, known for their understatement for once became effusive in their showering of superlatives – 'picturesque, fantastic, spectacular' -- on the flotilla of ships, barges and rowing boats passing along and by the longest renovated barge called President with the royal family on board. Salute and greetings from the people in the smaller ships and boats and those standing along eight miles on both banks of the river Thames were reciprocated by waving from the royal family. The octogenarian Queen and the nonagenarian Prince Philip stood through 90 minutes plus of a cultural extravaganza. The passing vessels of different vintages were more than just the chronicle of river crafts, rather they encapsulated the turning points of British history.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played its numbers, soaked in history, coincidentallay in rains as well. Come rain or sunshine, the mood swings, if any, were hidden behind an ebullient exterior.
The Thames, once the lifeline of British prosperity, may have turned into a symbolic entity but along its banks all the living monuments of history stand to this day. As if to emphasise the Thames' modernist streak the Tower of London, the tallest building in Western Europe, scrapes the sky over at the west-end of the river bank with magnificent public spaces in its top floors.
An interesting anecdote sounds poignantly relevant in our context. In the late 19th century, the Thames had turned into a cesspool, and the then British Prime Minister Disraeli (1874-80) stepping into the House of Commons library took out his handkerchief and pressed it on his nose at the stench of the river Thames. The next day he ordered a sewerage system put in place which were to be the precursor of the Thames' massive clean-up campaign.
A fun element was recalled by a commentator saying that on the wintry iced surface of the Thames' bed could be seen an elephant or two occasionally in imperial times.
If Disraeli woke up to the river pollution more than 200 years ago why are our leaders nonchalant to the stinking rivers Buriganga and Sitalakhya? Two centuries on, with an improved technology in hand, we can rejuvenate the rivers that remain the life(death!)line of Dhaka.
The Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations have evoked from moderate through humourous to critical comments from the British press.
A Sunday Times columnist named Rod Liddle gave vent to the caustic side of British intellectual opinion. The Queen's guests' list became instantly controversial. The magnificent jubilee lunch she threw in honour of "Bloodstained Despots" was not allowed to be televised since cameras were forbidden. As for the guests Liddle said: "My personal favourite is King Mswati III of Swaziland, who, sadly, brought to Windor Castle not a single one of his pouting and pneumatic 14 wives." Adding, he said, "And there is an arcane and singularly undemocratic process through which the Queen of England ends up eating a plate of oak-smoked salmon with the King of Bahrain." The bottomline reads more pointed: "The Jubilee Lunch for Bloodstained Despots is one good reason why we have a monarchy." He suggests maybe such contacts need to be kept outside the democratic institutions.
But well, the soft corner of veneration for the British royals shows up somewhere in the public perception of the aura around the tradition and foliage of the royal genetic tree. Financial Times ran a John Kay story with this headline: "Scrap the jubilee? Why not cancel Christmas too?" The introductory sentence sounds rather familiar: "Within three months there is a four-day weekend for Easter, a May day break and another four-day weekend to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee." (Just think of the familiar constellation of holidays Bangladesh-style with hartal chipping in).
Immediately, one senses a redemption in this relieving comment: "Output will be boosted in the following quarter by expenditure associated with the London Olympics." Add tourist incomes, too.
The argument that the jubilee came in an austere time for Britain is thus shot down.
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