“It’s confirmed, she’s no more,” was the WhatsApp message in a group that includes a great many Dubai-based British expats on Thursday evening.
It put a cap on the thread that had been, so far, knitting together an extraordinary life — that of HM Queen Elizabeth II. A couple of days ago, she’d met newly-elected British Prime Minister Liz Truss, woman to woman, and appeared to be her normal, spry self — a no-fuss mantle she wore with panache at 96. And then, her health suddenly nosedived. When the rapid deterioration hit the headlines, the conversation in our WhatsApp group became a litany of reminiscences of the life she’d led so far, chief among them a snatch from a speech she delivered during the height of the pandemic: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
With that confirmation (in the group) of the Queen having moved on to the other side — in her usual no-fuss style, quietly and unobtrusively — there was an outburst of emotions I have never encountered on a virtual platform, one that continued till next morning. For me, it was a throwback to exactly 25 years ago, minus a week. August 31, 1997. I was in (then) Calcutta, working for a weekly magazine, when news broke that Lady Diana had been killed in a car crash. Most people around me — cynical journalists — broke down spontaneously. Other than the fact that she was an icon in every sense of the term, Diana was considered Calcutta’s “very own”, ever since she professed an interest in Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and had visited the city to meet her. I remember a sobbing police officer, who had been part of the contingent that accompanied Diana when she moved about the city, saying she was the most remarkable — and the kindest — woman he’d had occasion to meet.
But then, Diana had been the People’s Princess — while not ‘technically’ being a stiffly upper-lipped royal — whose life had been tragically cut short in her prime. I never had that handle of appropriation on Queen Elizabeth II — though I’d doffed my non-existent hat at her ‘characterisation’ in The Crown. Plus, I’d been well aware of media reports that dwell on debates about the relevance of the British monarchy in current times. Coming from India — which shares a complex, love-hate relationship with the British, balancing Anglophilia with the baggage of colonisation — I may have unconsciously been conditioned to subscribe to the “irrelevance” view. Consequently, I was totally out of my depth when it came to gauging the overall public sentiment the Queen commanded, and the institution of the real-life crown she created.
It didn’t really need the normally-contentious Piers Morgan’s overwhelmingly clarity-ridden tribute to the Queen for the English penny to drop. Or the eulogies that came straight from the heart — and from all over the world. It needed someone in the WhatsApp group to wonder why she was so sad when she wasn’t even British, and why she felt she’s lost “her” Queen, and for someone else to say that it’s probably because Elizabeth stood for constancy, commitment and duty.
In 1947, on her 21st birthday, when she had not yet been crowned the Queen, Princess Elizabeth said, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” It was a long one, and she stood by her words. In a world of quick fixes and short-term gains, she was to remain for the long haul, right till the end.
On September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked, someone wrote, “That day, we were all New Yorkers.” On September 8, 2022, we all ended up paying obeisance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Rest in Power.
Is it unethical? Sure, it is — unless you believe in transparency and inform both parties about the matter and they give you the go-ahead (which is unlikely in most cases)
If the affluent among us contribute directly to society by buying bread for the poor, it will build direct access to the needy, cutting all bureaucratic tapes