The Queen and I

By Raffique Shah
September 12, 2022

Raffique ShahIt’s incomprehensible that I, whose generation had every reason to dislike the British monarchy and wish for its early demise and for it to be replaced by something more modern, early in my life, became indifferent to the Windsors’ lingering presence as a symbol of Britain’s once inordinate prowess, and more than that, one woman’s mesmerising presence that defied all odds for almost 100 years.

Elizabeth R, more than any other royal, had such influence on my rebellious mind that when I was told by my wife that the Queen had died, I instinctively responded “long live the King,” as if that was etched in my psyche, part of my colonial construct, the only words I could utter. I didn’t ask “which queen?” when or where she died.

Elizabeth and I, born 20 years apart, were destined to cross each other’s paths in ways few royals and commoners did. When her coronation in England was held, on June 2, 1952, I was six years old attending what is now known as the Freeport Presbyterian School.

There was so much fanfare that accompanied the event, which, in my childish mind, I recall some aspects vividly. All pupils were there because we had heard that the new Queen had been generous enough to ensure all of us got “snowballs” dipped in delicious syrup, and buns. What a royal treat for mostly poor children whose parents could only occasionally afford such luxuries.

Each pupil also got light metal buttons that depicted Queen Elizabeth’s face and name that we could pin on our shirts. Now, tell me, how could we, and countless millions other poor children from across the British Empire, ever be disloyal or ungrateful to such a nice, generous queen?

It was when I started reading books that were not listed on the curricula, and encountered many examples of Britain’s brutality against its subjects who did not readily conform to what was required of us, that I saw the white man in all his nakedness.

As I read passages from The Black Hole of Calcutta, I understood what it must have been like being overstuffed into a gaping prison-hole in the searing heat, I tried to imagine that torture—inflicted by “civilised” white men on black or Indian subjects. Prester John by John Buchan, which was required reading for our literature class, seemed to have been a sick joke played on the pupils.

Dickensian England—say, taken from Oliver Twist or Great Expectations, among other chilling tales from medieval England—served, I suppose, to show that whites were as callous, as brutal to their own, as they were to “inferior” races. I hasten to add that for use of language, for excellent prose and great storytelling, you can’t beat Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, George Orwell, et al.

I was writing on what the late Queen Elizabeth meant to me when I wandered off into the brutal side of being British, why many non-whites will find it difficult to like Liz. When I devoured the syrupy “snowball” on Coronation Day in 1952, not in my wildest imagination did I think I’d hold an opinion of her, far less get close to her. But both happened before I was 20.

I went off to Sandhurst at age 18 where I discovered the monarchy was very much present in every form, and where the Queen was commander-in-chief. Every declaration was to queen and country, in that order—this while bloody struggles for independence or freedom engaged British troops in colonies as diverse as Malaysia, Kenya, British Guiana (Guyana), Aden, and ten or 12 more.

The blood of young British soldiers, at least one a former roommate of mine, soaked into the sandy desert wilderness or the muddy jungles of Asia and where one drop of British blood was spilt rest assured a bucket of native blood would flow. For reasons I could not fathom at the time, Britain seemed bent on holding on to colonies that had nothing in them but trouble.

In July, 1965, the Queen took what is called the sovereign’s parade and I got my first chance to see what the monarch looked like. I was standing rigidly at attention as she inspected the parade, passing less than three feet in front of me. In blooming yellow, she looked as small as a bird—but there I saw a monarch who had fascinated me since I was five.

The following year she led Commonwealth Heads into Westminster Abbey and I was a few feet away, carrying the Trinidad and Tobago colours. The Queen had so much influence over so many leaders of varying political persuasions that she could use to quell blood-letting and senseless wars, yet she made no such intervention, as far as I know. That I will always hold against an otherwise pleasant personality.

3 thoughts on “The Queen and I”

  1. The Queen was the central figure of colonialism and now independent nations. As I walked through Buckingham Palace at the beginning of this month. I was simply awed at the design of every room in that majestic palace. We were allowed in the main areas but it is a very large building. I saw her necklace, tiara, and a small collection of painting (she has one of the biggest collection). Indeed material opulence at its finest. As I left the grand “mausoleum” a tribute to past conquest. I entered the tea garden where Presidents, Prime Ministers, head of State from various nations gathered to discuss what all politicians discuss , how can they attain some of this wealth in our country.

    The feeling of connection with the royal family is really a vain feeling, that if explored carefully will evaporate quickly. But it is nevertheless a very strong feeling in London, where the royal family own much of the properties or are royal custodians.

    Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl was the Nazi film producer. She past away coincidentally on September 8th 2003. I saw one of her film where she stirred the heart of her audience, slowly methodically moving the camera as if it was positioned over the Holy Grail. Queen Elizabeth II image as a young vivacious British gal who drove a truck and worked in a war torn Britan stole the heart of her people. Here was royalty getting her hands dirty. Her long reign was one of service to her country down to the last act of installing a Prime Minister.

    There is much that can be said about her reign but perhaps the most important thing is the strong sense of British Pride she stirred in the hearts of all commoners. A pride that saw this tiny nation govern almost half the world. A felt that pride in London, everything functioned to perfection. The clean streets, the fast moving subways, the orderliness of the society. All contributes to a higher way of living and thinking.

    There is much that will be said after her funeral. After all 70 years 214 days reign, cannot be expressed in words in a few weeks. For myself I am thankful for the crown. I am 5 generations born in a British colony. Without the crown, I would have been relegated to a low caste in India and lived as a criminal in a world I did not design nor created. Yes there were hard workers in our family something we were accustomed to. The crown do owe me repatriation money…..hopefully some day I will see that, until then I keep my fingers crossed…..So long Queen Elizabeth II…..

  2. Memory can be a tricky thing, as Mr. Shah deftly demonstrates. His reading of the Black Hole of Calcutta must be well back, as he seems to have forgotten that it is was “civilised” — his word, his irony, his parentheses — Indian men who inflicted that torture on White men and their Indian soldier companions. The whole colonialism debate that is about to explode upon us with the death of QE II is likely to be filled with such inaccuracies. Get your facts right.

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