Politically-volatile Indians, with their fierce nationalism, anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, would not like to pay any attention to the golden jubilee celebrations of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II underway in Britain this week. But there are many ordinary Indians - running into thousands - who are quite curious about the British monarch, and do not feel embarrassed to say that they are charmed by her.
What ordinary Indians find so charming about Queen Elizabeth and the British monarchy is that it symbolises tradition in the best sense of the term. Indians understand the need and importance of tradition, even when that tradition is constantly changed and adapted. It is what Indians have done with tradition. They have changed it beyond recognition without abandoning it. It is this pragmatic attitude towards tradition that is common to Indians and the English people.
The place that Queen Elizabeth occupies in the minds of the people of Britain - many of them form different parts of the former empire, including India - is that of a matriarch of a large family, which is now irretrievably multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Most Asians in Britain cherish the monarchy and the remnants of feudal Britain more than the English themselves. It is born of that sentimental attachment to tradition.
The queen would not really understand the language and attitudes of many of her subjects. They do not share her gentle, but a little too stiff, English attitude and mannerism. But she has grown to care for them in her own way. She is not vocal about it, but it can be seen that she looks with pride on multi-cultural Britain.
Though she would not go out of her way like her son, Prince Charles, to declare that she is concerned about the ethnic minorities, she remains the symbolic figure who binds all the communities in the island-nation.
Though a conservative - in the best sense of the term - she has seen her sons and daughters enact in their personal lives the trauma of modern and post-modern life. Every one of her children has gone through divorce, flings, extra-marital affairs, and delinquency of other kinds. Though the royal household has become the perfect picture of a dysfunctional family, she did not wilt under the traumatic changes. She showed the courage and resilience of an old world person. Her own marriage remained steadfast in the midst of marital ruins of her children. In a surprising and ironical sense, she remained the head of a family that seemed to have fallen apart. She did not allow it to vanish.
Her greatest personal trial came at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She sensed the public mood of mourning. And also a sense of anger that the rebel princess received a raw deal at the hands of the royal family when she was alive. She set aside her reservations about the estranged daughter-in-law, and spoke warmly about her in a televised address to the grief-stricken nation. Then she went outside the St James Palace - the residence of Diana - and interacted with the mourners and looked at the bouquets and condolence messages that grew by the day and the hour in those days of mourning in September, 1997. It was an act of courage and grace. She showed the world that the family was united in the moment of tragedy.
It is this sense of duty and attachment to the family that makes her an endearing figure in a post-modern Britain, where the family has almost disintegrated. More than Queen Victoria, or even Queen Elizabeth I, she remains an enduring figure in changing times.
And she achieved this by being and doing what she was expected to be and do. She played by the rules she had been taught - to be a queen, to be a mother. Queen Elizabeth is no statesman, not is she a visionary. But she seems to provide the much needed anchor to Prime Minister Tony Blair and his pseudo-revolutionary government.
It is to be remembered that she had Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan as prime ministers. It is very unlikely that she will ever write her private impressions of them, though if she were to do so, it would be of great interest to the historian as well as to the curious reader.
Queen Elizabeth does not pretend to be an intellectual, and the debates about multi-culturalism would just stupefy her. But she is not nonplussed. She knows that the young people will talk a lot of nonsense before they grow old quietly and regain their senses. Sometime, somewhere English people of all hues are sure to return to the traditional values by which the queen has lived - being decent, being graceful, being dignified, and believing in family, country and God. They seem indecently outdated, but she makes them appear to be perfectly okay, and that it is no shame to believe in them.
Queen Elizabeth II reign marks the genteel triumph of tradition in the person of the monarch.
Published in Tehelka