RENUKA VISWANATHAN | 2 FEBRUARY, 2020
Megxit And The Ravening Press
UK, India on the same side of the fence?
Many remarks made by the press and the public during the recent furore around Harry and Meghan have an uncanny resemblance to what is usually projected in Bollywood sagas. Which, again, reflects what actually happens within Indian families. British society may be miles away from us in the norms applied to judge personal behavior. But, when it comes to what it expects of its royals, we get a mirror image of India. In this at least, the East and the West do meet, Mr. Kipling!
Look at the assumptions behind what is happening to the Windsors.
Here is a prince, born to title and wealth; adored beyond all measure. He is the most eligible of bachelors, whom every woman is swooning to marry. So what if he does not soil his hands with real work? Exactly like an Indian beta, a petted and privileged asset in the marriage market.
A woman, no matter what her dreams and achievements are, takes on her husband’s status after marriage. Ergo, she will want to “marry up” and plot and plan to realise this ambition. To Piers Morgan, the well known anchor of “Good Morning, Britain”, therefore, Meghan is “a social climber”, who has hooked an innocent prince. With carefully crafted plans laid far in advance. Enter Meghan, the cold, calculating gold-digger and celebrity hunter. Prototype of the notorious Bollywood vamp. Let’s forget that Meghan was quite a celebrity herself, before she ran into Harry. An actor in her own right, with a respectable following, pretty well known to the public, a position that, by the way, owed nothing to her DNA or her heredity. Why let facts get in the way of a perfectly good bias?
In the natural hierarchy of families brought together by marriage, the bride’s side (“ladkiwale”) always take the back seat. Certainly so, when a prince is the groom. Leading to invidious comparisons between Meghan’s and Harry’s parents and snide comments about her “dysfunctional” upbringing. To the objective observer, however, there is little to choose between the two. Given past and present scandals, can we really hold up the Windsors as the ideal?
Women must be subsumed in the worlds of their spouses. No scope for any reverse movement. Again, just like in Bollywood plots, the British tabloids go wild with speculation: How does Meghan fit in? Into the royal family. Into the expectations of the British public under the glaring scrutiny of British tabloids. We dare not ask if Harry would fit into Meghan’s selfmade world with his royal quirks and handicaps. That question is sacrilege. Bollywood has taught us Indians too that it is always SHE who must follow HIS lead.
Well, Meghan did try to fit into Harry’s world and we all saw it. The waving, the public appearances, even during her pregnancy. But it was not enough, because she would not display her newborn baby to paparazzi. And that makes her a bad woman. Sounds familiar? Personal privacy and “me-time” are not accepted concepts within Indian families too.
The most stifling part about such mergers is the suppression of the woman’s voice. Meghan is hardly an unformed girl just out of her teens like Princess Diana at the time of her marriage. She was a famous and successful actor, with a circle of friends and opinions of her own. What she thinks about environment-friendly behavior is pretty much the fashion on both sides of the Atlantic. But, hey, she must never talk about it because some of the Queen’s subjects think differently. So, she is vilified and mocked in rather hurtful ways. Her opponents could disagree with her and argue with her but that is not enough; she must suppress her ideas.
Being part of the royal entourage demands complete makeover of the Princess to fit the profile preferred by her subjects. Indian families, too demand the same submission and submergence. Of the opinions of a bride into the doctrines of the marital family. There is no room for individualism, no space to express your own beliefs. You toe the dotted line or try to stay silent.
When, as often happens, such demands become intolerable, couples choose to follow their own paths. But the blame is always laid at one door. She is at fault. For breaking up the royal cohort. For, presumably, coming between brother and brother. And perhaps between son and father, grandson and grandmother. For succeeding in her preplanned scheme to marry a prince, acquire a royal title and seduce him away to her own world.
No wonder the papers have dubbed it Megxit. What a convenient narrative! That deprives the male of all responsibility for making a decision. As if he were just an ass led by the nose. The same story that we are asked to swallow when a couple moves out of an Indian joint family to make their own home.
The saddest part of the royal episode is the invidious comparison between the two bahus. If Kate could adjust to family norms, why shouldn’t Meghan? That two individuals might have different likes and dislikes cannot be accepted. Kate let press photographers into her hospital room immediately after the confinement, why couldn’t Meghan do it too? That apparently is a great violation of the unwritten pact between the monarch and her subjects, between celebrities and a ravening press. Thus, sisters-in-law suffering common restraints, are pitted against one another in Indian families. Comparison among women alone is a classical technique to undermine the sisterhood.
Surrounding this predictable tale is spicy gossip fed by eavesdropping, tittle-tattle and so-called expert opinions by those claiming familiarity with royal norms. How avid we are to put our own construction on patently meagre facts! Did Kate and /or William drive Meghan away? Were they unwelcoming to the newcomer? What a shame that brothers who were once so close are now estranged! And so on and so forth. The tongues wag unceasingly. With exactly nothing to feed them. Any gossip is grist to the mill as long as it talks of the witch who broke up a royal family. As if no couple would ever relocate without falling out with family members or being expelled.
Queen Elizabeth’s endorsement of Harry and Meghan’s decision has baulked the baying predators of their prey. And they are not pleased. So, the abuse continues. The mean speculations about how the couple will support themselves: we will give you no money, don’t depend on our charity or the public exchequer to pay for your security. The taunts: what skills do you have to support yourselves without invoking your royal connections? Envious glances at the palatial house that Meghan (only her name is always mentioned) is looking at in Vancouver. Couldn’t there be savings from her years of success as an artiste? And Harry, like every child, is entitled to some share of his father’s personal income. The couple has behaved impeccably, relinquishing the right to payments from the royal kitty and offering to pay for what was spent on refurbishing their British residence. Yet, insinuations are made that they are doing this under duress. With wild guesses that they can never make a life of their own without falling back on Harry’s royal lineage. All so reminiscent of the gossip that follows an Indian couple that dares to seek autonomy and privacy beyond the conventional family fold. The facts we have could equally suggest a kinder and brighter future. A life in which both Harry and Meghan could find satisfying vocations, express their personal views and not be stalked by the yellow press. Harry’s father and grandmother certainly seem to desire this outcome.
Such close congruence between Indian and British social conventions confirms that the brouhaha about Meghan and Harry is definitely about sexism. The spotlight is, however, on racism. The British are incensed that their transatlantic cousins are freely using the R word. And social media are ringing with arguments and insults. There are, of course, objective criteria to judge racist behavior. Some of it, however, is also in the eyes of the beholder. Like the hidden triggers behind some actions and words. And the manner in which a statement or action is understood by the victim. Both sides would benefit from sharing these sensitivities and understand why they diverge so sharply in their perceptions.
For us on the sidelines, it is amusing to discover that press persons are as thin skinned as their victims. We are continually told that those who crave publicity must be prepared to take the attendant abuse with equanimity. We can now also see how media persons squirm when they are called racist and put in the dock. Piers Morgan, for example, usually so free with insinuations and speculations about Meghan, could hardly suffer his detractors to put in a word or two against him. Sure, Mr. Morgan, it’s a cosier ride when you join the accusers and escape being accused.
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