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Renegades and enduring royal allure

  • Published at 10:55 pm January 19th, 2020
Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan
Reuters

Is Mexit a battle between the staid old order and a bold new one?

We all love palace intrigue.

The reason perhaps is rooted in the fact that all of us grew up listening to fairy tales involving royal settings. In Bangla, stories about kings, queens, and malicious witches have always been staple good night stories, creating in us a tiny space where most of us dream of princely lives in lavish surroundings. Many of us may feel that the institution of the royal family may be out of date and somewhat vacuous, though there cannot be any doubt that the royal cachet remains intact.

But royal allure is not diminishing anytime soon. While there is passion and ardency for royalty, there is also approval for royal renegades who want to break away from the rigid template and carve out new roles for those who have always been made to feel a little more superior to the ordinary folk. 

Harry and Meghan’s bombshell declaration that they are willing to give up a part of their royal duties and become more independent happens to be the story du jour, triggering endless debates. Even in Bangladesh, the royal renegades have created quite a stir by upending the order. My mother, for instance, a life-long subscriber to the magazines Royalty and Majesty and an avowed royalist, seems devastated. 

Following the Brexit portmanteau, people are calling it “Mexit.” Meghan and Harry have little or no impact on world economy but sometimes we don’t want to talk about recession, recovery, and austerity.

Mavericks in the royal order

For ages, royalty was seen from a distance, admired for their choreographed life, measured speech, and controlled demeanour. Since the 70s, this has started to change since royal peccadillos, transgressions, and aberrations began to come out for the public to savour. After all, what is a royal family if it’s prosaic and fails to provide a little piquancy?

In the 50s, Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s sister, found herself in the middle of a tempestuous relationship with a divorced man, Group Captain Peter Townsend. That was a different era and marriage to a divorced man was frowned upon. The then government, led by Anthony Eden, the man behind the ignominious Suez invasion, made it clear that if this marriage went ahead, the princess would be stripped of her status and income. Obviously, security triumphed over love and the rebellious romance faded away. 

Now there are mavericks in the royal family who can call the shots, demand to be different, and maybe get away with it. No, the government has nothing to do with this anymore. 

Mexit seems more like a battle between the staid old order and a bold new one, daring to carve out new ways. Some have said that going half-way cannot work; either one is a full royal or a complete commoner. I beg to differ because in this age of hybrids, there is no reason why this blend cannot work.

In fact, such iconoclasts can make the royal family relevant in an age when many ask the rationale for nurturing such an institution. In the current format, where too many dos and don’ts dictate life, the institution is already an anachronism.

Obviously, Harry and Meghan could have just said that since many of the rules are too limiting and absurd, that they want a way out to live like free people. But they didn’t do that, which means that whatever their intention, the declaration was done with careful thought, and was hardly an impetuous outburst. 

Humans with follies

The world needs royalty because tales of kings, queens, and princes add much needed doses of thrill to mundane life. And, for Britain, royalty -- along with the palaces and memorabilia -- brings hard cash, reportedly more than 550 million pounds. But the present needs royals who are less isolated and more like the common folk on the street. 

Prince Charles is hardly seen without a tie, whereas his sons are often seen without one. The less formal look often sends the message: Hey, I am open for any conversation!

In similar fashion, many traditional regulations need to be jettisoned. Perhaps Meghan and Harry are doing just that. There is, of course, the issue of racism which has come up in recent discussions. There was a hint that being mixed race, Meghan had to face prejudice. If that is so, then some serious reform is needed. 

Also, the expectation that a member of the royal family has to be impeccable needs to be thrown away. They are humans and not gods, with all the frailties of any other person. 

South Asian expectations

So, what should South Asians expect from the new age of royal members? Since members of the family are often engaged in advocating human rights, pluralism, and tolerance, a renunciation of the imperial flaws of Britain could be a fine way to show that there is a desire to evolve and remain relevant. 

Neither an unconditional apology nor a complete denunciation of Britain’s crimes as a colonial power, but an acknowledgement that some of the policies of the past led to social division, antagonism, and bias. Also, advocating for colonial era facts -- told without redaction or embellishment -- would make the royals appear more benevolent. 

This is, of course, wishful thinking and may never come to fruition. On a lighter note, Meghan has divided royal watchers into two sections: One looking for old-school tradition, and the other for a breath of fresh air. 

The clash of the two sides may prove to be rather entertaining. Since Downton Abbey is now over, how about a film on a royal member going rogue? 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.