By Basab Dasgupta
During my childhood years I read about queens in fairy tales and mythologies as well as history books. It seemed that there were two categories of queens: the ones who looked pretty, resided in palaces, only appearing in public during festive ceremonies; the second class of queens were fighters and rulers and made me believe in the strengths and courage of women even at that early age.
Among the beautiful queens, Cleopatra and Nefertiti of Egypt ranked very highly among historical figures while queen Isabella of Portugal and Raina of Jordan are more recent names. Beautiful queens from India included Padmavati, Gayatri Devi and Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi.
History books are full of tales of brave women who not only ruled their countries but also fiercely fought with enemies in battlefields. Rani Lakshmibai was probably the first name we learned who inspired awe and inspiration. Queen Victoria, who also had the title of “Empress of India” was an important ruler.
However, it was Queen Elizabeth the second (E2) who was the real queen to me. Her seventy years of reign roughly coincided with my entire lifetime: she was the queen when I was a child, and she was still the queen as recently as this month of September. I always felt a closeness with E2. I used to collect stamps as a hobby when I was a kid. It made a deep impression on me to see the profile of queen E2 on every stamp of not only the UK but also of all countries which were part of the British empire. She was dignified but still looked like a real down-to-earth person who could chat with almost anyone at a personal level.
Her children – Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward – are of the same age group as I. As a result, I had an imaginary kinship with them. They were almost like my cousins, and I tracked their development and achievements in life to compare with those of mine. The height of this kinship came in 1961 when I got a chance to see the queen. E2 visited India for the first time after India’s independence. I had the opportunity to see her probably for a couple of seconds riding in a motorcade with prime minister Nehru cruising through Chowringhee road in Kolkata and waving at the spectators.
It was ten years later in 1971, I stopped at London for a couple of days on my way to the US and visited Buckingham palace. No, I did not see the queen but saw the pomp and grandeur of her lifestyle including change of guards. While in London, I realized that it was not just the stamps, the queen’s profile was permanently present in every coin, on every currency note and every government document.
I liked the fact that queen E2 was always vocal about political and social issues of the day, whether it was the Falkland war or gay marriage. Despite all the royal grandeur and formalities, she was a real human being with all its shortcomings. This surfaced on a grand scale during Princess Diana’s passing away. Initially, she was reluctant to express any emotions still holding on to the grudges resulting from Diana’s infidelity and divorce from her son. However, eventually she caved in bowing to public pressure and her desire to do the right thing. This transformation was beautifully captured in the movie “The Queen”.
She was firm in dealing with Prince Andrew and depriving him of his royal duties when his association with Jeffrey Epstein became public knowledge. She was equally strict with her grandson Harry.
She has a wonderful sense of humor. She agreed to participate in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 where she was escorted by James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) and entered the Olympic stadium by sky jumping from a helicopter (of course, using a body-double).
She expressed her grief in her characteristic majestic yet personal way when her husband passed away.
I like the fact that all dignitaries including US presidents visiting the UK had to pay a visit to the queen and the queen was formally involved in important events such as the announcement of a new prime minister. Even though some people complain about all these “royal duties” being unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money, especially in the present economic environment, I think that it is good to have a non-partisan figurehead who can rise above politics and unify the country.
When I watched Prince Charles arriving at Buckingham Palace for the first time as King Charles III and shaking hands with the crowd gathered outside, it suddenly hit me for the first time that the queen was gone. I had tears in my eyes; no, they were not for the queen E2 whose familiar presence next to Charles wearing a characteristic floral hat was missing but for the beloved woman who should have been there as queen next to Charles – Princess Diana.
Diana was already a queen of hearts for all the British people when she passed away; now with an authorized royal power she could have implemented some of her visions. If nothing else, she could have helped King Charles to introduce many of his policies. She could have united the country. I have no doubt that the feud between Prince William and Harry would have disappeared in an instant.
I was always captivated by Princess Di. I watched the entire wedding ceremony between Charles and Diana on live TV. I had been mesmerized by her beauty, grace and compassion over the years. She perfectly fit the image of a queen I had in my head.
The king and queen are supposed to stay apolitical and above partisan bickering. However, King Charles is reportedly passionate about many philanthropic works including environmental issues such as climate change, ocean pollution, deforestation. He is also touched by human suffering; he had some strong views against Boris Johnson’s immigration policy of returning Rwandans back to their country.
Charles’ wife Camilla is such a misfit. She has been given the title of “queen consort” which apparently means a queen without any formal authority. She looks haggard, partly because of her age and partly because of her reported excessive alcohol consumption. I have never heard her speak but she seems to lack the ability to connect with common people.
If I were to criticize one act of queen E2, it would be her decision to force Charles to marry Diana, an innocent and stunningly beautiful nineteen years old. She must have known about Charles’ love affair with married Camilla but probably thought that it was a temporary fling. She also allowed Charles’ affair with Camilla to continue even after Charles’ marriage with Diana. “There were three people in this marriage. It was a bit crowded”, as Diana said in a TV interview. In the process, the queen was indirectly responsible for the loss of a beautiful life.
Diana’s passion for a variety of social and community issues is legendary. She traveled all over the world including Africa, seeing firsthand the plight and misery of poor people. She raised awareness about HIV and AIDs, homelessness, danger of landmines, leprosy, and she was especially involved in children’s causes.
It would have been the dawn of a beautiful era in the saga of British royalty if Charles and Diana could combine their visions and passion to help the entire humanity on this earth and make a difference. Diana would have created another category of queen; not just a pretty face, not a fighter on the battlefield and not a practical one like E2 but simply an angel. I can see Diana standing next to Charles and smiling, making the entire population of the UK, if not the whole world go crazy in applause and celebration.
I can only hope that Diana’s legacy will continue through Williams when he becomes the next king.
(Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times