28.10.09

The Patel Raj and Prince Philip vs.Harrods and Indian Culture

It wasn’t quite a joke nor was it a jibe. That it was at the Buckingham Palace and the recipient an Indian businessman made it into an issue. So Prince Philip has a history of making off-colour remarks occasionally. During the introductions at a reception for the Indian President, when introduced to one of the guests whose name tag he read, he quipped, “There's a lot of your family in tonight.”

The anti-monarchy group Republic is incensed. The organisation’s spokesperson said, “At best it's a comment that shows he's out of touch and out of date. There are a large number of Patels living in Britain and many will find it offensive that Prince Philip tries to joke that they're all related.”

These guys just don’t know Indians. They might relish the idea that one of them was in the list of invited guests at ‘Berking-em Pay-less’. They would probably distribute free sweets at their stores in Wembley and later when photographs are released there will most certainly be some who will show off the one in which the Duke of Edinburgh is shaking hands with Atul Patel.

The anti-monarchs will need to find some other group to vent their ire. Indians love the pomp and splendour of royalty and in fact fox-hunting is nothing compared with the stories they heard from their grandparents about tiger trails and elephant palanquins.

The Patels are so important internationally that even motels that they run are referred to as Potels. They are a hard-working lot who are happy to sell what they know best – a slice of pickled mango and a dash of spice.

But, since anti-monarchy groups have got into the act, someone in India might get the bright idea of objecting, never mind that the recipient of the quip has not felt offended.

They might bring in something about racism when the fact is that these guys have colonised and virtually set up a mini-Pateldom in that country. The minute you come close to Wembley you can smell it. The shops sell Indian clothes the way they do in India: bales of cloth unfurled and you are encouraged to touch it and say “so soft, no”, and then begin the haggling. The restaurants are typically filled with Indian food and the loos are…well…not the best place you’d like to stop over at. When I was there, not for a minute did I feel I was in a different country.

These people rule in their little kingdom and it’s all good.

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Talking of kingdoms, I was mighty amused that the owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al Fayed, has said that he would be ready and willing to become the first President of Scotland and even urged his “fellow Scots” to break away from “the English and their terrible politicians”.

It takes some nerve. He has been denied a British passport and although it was most unfortunate that his son Dodi, who Princess Diana was dating, died along with her, the fact remains that he capitalised on that tragedy by putting up busts of the two of them at Harrods, almost creating a shrine. Harrods itself is a shrine for those who fall in the middle of Marks and Spencer’s and Bond Street retail therapy. It is a landmark of England and this is where he made his name.

So, will he close shop and get all set to walk around in the ceremonial kilt and look like a tribal chief he often behaves like?

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In quite another story about India, dancer Pratibha Prahlad, the convenor of the Delhi International Arts Festival said, “DIAF can become an Edinburgh festival.” Sounds good? Not quite, for just a sentence before she had declared, “The time had come for India to project its cultural supremacy.”

Cultural supremacy by using something else as a standard? And why the need for cultural supremacy? Is culture only about some dance, music, literature?

I find her other comment intriguing:

“The Britishers, the French and Germans realised this long ago, so they set up the British Council, Alliance Francaise, Max Mueller Bhavan in every metro and small towns too. Today, China asserts itself through its cuisine, Japanese through technology, French and Americans through cinema. They’re monocultures, we’re a cauldron of culture, so why not celebrate our diversity?”


I will refer to the beginning of this post. Our cultural supremacy, if such a thing needs to be asserted, lies in our ghettos that evolve. Bollywood is an important part of many countries and known everywhere. A ‘pure’ artiste might snigger at it, but these same pure artistes will regard some weird installations artistic. Why, they’d even find museums of erotica rather uplifting, if I may say so.

Our diversity is not always our strength. Chinese cuisine has variety reflecting different parts of China. There is no uniformity in French or American cinema, and Japanese technology works best when it has cheap imitations elsewhere!

Let us get real. Indian food, clothes, attitude are seen as only Indian outside. No foreigner specifically goes for Punjabi or South Indian food, except the connoisseur. It is Indian clothes, not regional ones. We have enough parochialism within our shores, so let us not export it or try to show our cultural supremacy through this trumped up diversity. It is this diversity that is making us into small pockets of people who don’t feel Indian enough.

Even our current song of patriotism ‘Jai Ho’ comes from an Oscar-winning film made an Englishman and was used by the ruling political party. Before crowing about how great we are culturally we should first understand that culture and, if it is not asking for too much, some interest in civilisation.

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful! I know the feeling of pleasure as we watch one of us make it, but there is also envy. I don't quite go along with your views on Fayed, he is putting up a fight.

    What were you doing in Wembley :D

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  2. I Like the the last section of this post.

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  3. Ameya:

    Agreed. There can be a great deal of envy in cases where such prominence is not visible.

    Fayed could have been representative of a good fight had he not himself become a part of the let's do the monarchy bandwagon.

    I was 'doing' Wembley...I really can get quite posh sometimes :)

    SM:

    The last section of this post thanks you, while the other two raise a banner of revolt...

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