A Modern Mysticism: The British Royalty

Netflix has released its latest season of TV series on the British royalty and The Crown is hogging the attention of international media. Even across the “pond” (as they call the Atlantic) in USA, let alone continental Europe, the third season of the episode is being avidly watched, according to some reports.

Curiously enough, the British monarchy and its affairs have become an object of interest throughout the world. They are the super celebrities of the globalised order, it appears.

It must be a wonderful marketing strategy for Netflix for grabbing the TRP. Otherwise, why should Netflix, an American technology-based entertainer, commanding the biggest slice of the industry, release three serials on the same subject for its global network.

Although conceived as a republic, today’s America remains one of the liveliest places as far as interest in the British monarchy is concerned. There are dedicated royalty watchers in American media who comment on the smallest flutters, even when these are not always having happy notes. Resplendent or disputable reputation, these bring in the advertisers’ dollars all the same. Why that should be?

Put in proper perspective, the British Crown no longer rules the waves, the Empire-in-which-the-Sun-never-used-to-set is a distant faded memory, and with the mischief of Brexit afoot, Scotland threatening to leave the United Kingdom, the House of Windsor should be considered at best some small time potentate of a withering outpost.

Yet the mystical hold of the royal family behind the staid facade of the Buckingham Palace rivets attention. My mother was in her time an avid Royalty watcher and fond of looking at the pictures of the family with their corgi dogs. I still remember the large picture books of their pictures which were her favourite.

Today, the media is gobbling up stories of another member of the royal family —Duke of York, Prince Andrew, younger son of the Queen—for his questionable links with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex-offender. Epstein was reportedly invited at the 18 years’ birthday party of his daughter.  The victims of the sex maniac are demanding formal interviews with the prince for eliciting more background information.

Individual members of the British royalty are always a big draw, and newly-wed couples are almost a frenzy, the latest being Duke of Sussex and his wife, Meghan Markle. Their every movement, as Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were reported in the British and international press. It was a repeat almost of the paparazzi’s perverse interest in the life of Prince Andrew’s mother, Lady Diana, Princess of Wales.

Long since ceased to have been their subjects, even today Indians—at least some—have retained avid interest in the happenings in the British royal family. One wonders why Indian regalia has not been subject of such presentations and have not turned into virtual mints. If anything, they are more colourful.

Of course, their titles have been scrapped, and even their state purses. But the way people—particularly, those in Rajasthan— treat their erstwhile rajas and maharajahs, there is no dilution in the communal memory of their former kingship. The remaining aura should provide that appeal for TV presentations probably.

It appears as though there is always a hankering for a myth. Good or bad, sweet or sour, even the tragic is converted into a myth and that keeps going. Example: the tragic sinking of the Titanic, which has mesmerised the West.

Another example is the Indian visitors to the UK invariably gravitating towards the Buckingham Palace, even when routinely getting disappointed by the scale and look of it. By their expectations, it is not grand enough as we are given to hyperboles as opposed to British understatement. But at the same time, they wait for the pageantry of “Change of the Guards”.

For India, which was replete with kings and queens for millennia excepting the last seventy years, the appeal runs underneath, especially of nowhere more other than in Rajasthan. We still have the erstwhile royal families who feel like reigning monarchs before their subjects. Even while fighting elections, which are no respecters of rank and status for that brief season, the royals of erstwhile ruling families enjoy a somewhat different emotional appeal.

And the epitome of the royal appeal was the late Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. Her daring, her intelligence, her elegance, and above all her stunning beauty had personified the concept of a Queen. Even after abolition of all royal status and privileges, Maharani Gayatri Devi always lived up to her name in popular imagination.

The British Queen is comparatively a plane Jane version of a Queen, for that matter. But she is like the Scottish tweed — long lasting, reliable and stolid.

The durability of the appeal of the British royal family to the subjects would be the usefulness of the Monarchy as a stabilising factor. It is the rock solid basis of English political establishment. For all you can remember, Queen Elizabeth was the monarch for as long as you can remember.

As one BBC commentator has written in the context of the Netflix series: She is the ultimate feminist. The most powerful, shrewd, grand old men too come to see her and listen to her and courtesy her with low bows.

We in India are perhaps searching for some durable myths for our polity.

(By arrangement with IPA)

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