Friday, January 12, 2007

What's in the news?

OK, so it’s Friday and I’m on vacation. I’m sipping my early morning cup of tea and munching on some cookies (what we Limeys—and folks in India, too—call biscuits). I don’t have much in mind to do today, so I’m kind of killing time, browsing my daily copy of The Hindu, “India’s National Newspaper Since 1878.” The Hindu is very well written and, for this Anglo-American ex-patriate, it has the bonus of all those quaint English spellings and word usages.

Talking about 1878, that was the year Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India. The Brits took it upon themselves to accord her the title, by the way, without a by-your-leave to the several millions of Indians who just happened to have owned the place for thousands of years before the British decided to take it over. But that’s another story.

Did you know that, in honor of Empress Victoria’s accession to her purloined throne, a whole new Order was established called the Imperial Order of the Crown of India? Only women could join, as long as they were wives or female relatives of Indian Princes, or wives or female relatives of anyone who was the Viceroy of India, the Governor-General of India, the Governors of Madras, Bombay, and Bengal, the Secretary of State for India, or the wife of the Commander-in-Chief in India.

Nice little club. I bet they all spoke the Queen’s English and had blue blood running in their veins. The membership has declined somewhat since 1947, when the Indians politely (with a campain of non-violence) asked the Brits to leave. Queen Elizabeth II is the only surviving member. The Order of the Crown of India dies with her, though it would be a nice gesture on her part if she abolished the silly thing now.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the history of colonial India lately. It’s a sad tale, like most of the tales told by colonizing powers. They bask in the glory of their conquest while raping the colonized country of its mineral and material wealth, leaving behind little except a smattering of the colonial culture, a legacy of hate, and a lot of dead people.

But at least the Brits gave India cricket, which especially here in the south of India is an absolute passion. Every day, in The Hindu, I get caught up on international and local matches. If I had a TV, I’d have been able to watch every ball bowled in the recent test series where England got totally trounced by Australia.

To be fair, Britain brought India the English language, too, about which I'll have more to say in another post.

A national newspaper’s a great way to learn about India; better than TV which, if it’s local, is more often than not in the local language (Telugu in Andhra Pradesh). If it’s not local, it’s CNN or ESPN or MSNBC with an Indian slant, but the stories (other than cricket) are always reduced to mind size bites on the assumption that anyone watching couldn’t possibly concentrate on the same story for more than about 3 minutes. That’s how it is in America at least. I’ve only watched TV a couple of times since I came to India, and never for more than 3 minutes at a time.

But you can sit back and relax with a newspaper. It’s in the newspaper that I’ve learned what an extraordinarily democratic country India is—messy, but determinedly democratic. Ghokale, Ghandi, Nehru, and a host of other great leaders have left a legacy of activism. The newspaper’s full of stories of this and that activist group, here, there, and everywhere, creating a fuss over some perceived injustice or other, more so than in any other country I’ve lived. I’ve never met a gentler, more generous, more helpful, and more solicitous people than the people of India, yet they don’t put up with any you-know-what and they always seem to be complaining about something or other.

How the British got away with colonizing India for as long as they did I shall never understand. But it had to help that Queen Victoria’s empire was the mightiest military power in the world at the time.

No doubt the ladies of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India did their bit, too.

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