April is the cruellest month / Mixing memory and desire / Stirring / Dull roots with spring rain. ~ T. S. Eliot
The memories of the British people even today has shades of the glory of the empire, which in reality ended after World War II. With the independence of India in 1947, consequent to almost empty coffers of the British, the brightest legacy of the empire, India, faded away, almost overnight. With that, the dream and the romance ended and the stark reality of the British isle slowly but surely dawned on the still expansive minds of the British people. The sun never sets in the British empire turned to mere nostalgia.
It will not be gross exaggeration to suggest that the rightwing conservativism of the British parliament or even the lamentable short sightedness of the British working classes, the former colony, makes some sense, even stirs deep-rooted emotion. Europe still remains a faraway land across the channel, however.
When I arrived in Britain around 1964 to go to Cambridge, the memory of the empire was like a melancholic sunset. Paris still remained only a meagre pleasure-hunt for the rich with no clear ties, economically or even socially. It was just a fashionable hotspot, a conversation piece in the social circuit of the British upper class. Italy was famous for the “gorgeous mistress” of the almost royal British, portrayed with a pathetic texture by Evelyn Wagh in the famous novel, Brides Head. Have you noticed the extreme nostalgia of the films made recently, based on the old tales of magnificent country houses with butlers, upstairs and downstairs, PG Wodehouse and his rambling prose, so romantic yet so frightfully nostalgic?
To someone like me, who spent one’s adolescent and youthful years in Britain, Brexit is not surprising but frankly distressing. It is the mix of gnawing pain of the memory of yester years with a desire to get out of the claws of Brussels and just live with memory on a floating small island in the Atlantic called Great Britain.
The British have made a mess of the Brexit issue, the House of Commons once a dazzling, sparkling ground of the greats of the empire, is now like a school with quarrelling kids. The lingering desire of hanging on to memory and nothing much else, the parliamentarians, now referred to as lawmakers, can’t even produce a sensible law. To me, like many others of my generation, the spectacle is terribly sad, the worst thing that can happen to any nation is not to be able to take any positive decision. To be not to be!
Affinity to the former colony even with a degree of patronising attitude still remains a strong undercurrent. Have you not noticed one prominent Conservative parliamentarian boast of not needing any lodging in a former colony because he was married to a person from there; his in-laws are reasonably well off back in India. But like the crumbling colony, the poor chap botched up his famous marriage, symbolic of mixing memory with a desire he doesn’t recognise.
But the colony is more desirable than Europe because they fought with Europe in two devastating wars in one century, especially in the devastating Second World War until almost recently although the soldiers recruited from the colony were always on their side even in the worst of times.
It was ironic, when the previous British Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressed his mind by saying that he expects a British Prime Minister of Indian origin in near future. Well, we are getting there; the family of the Home Secretary is from this subcontinent, although the British royal family has German blood.
Brexit is turning to a nightmare, now threatening to bring down yet another British Prime Minister. There is no sign of light yet in the dark tunnel.
It is sad to say the least. The land of Shakespere, Newton, Milton, and so many other greats, it has now became the land of quarrelsome school children who have lost all sense of direction but still insist on calling themselves law makers. Can’t they see Brexit with no deal will bring in unprecedented economic disaster and doom for Britain? It is as obvious as day and night.
It will be truly historic if Her Majesty, breaking all constitutional tradition, plays the role of an elder statesman, not just a monarch.
Brexit is the last wrench of the British and its history.
Where is the spring rain to stir the dull roots?
(The writer is former Homi Bhabha Professor, Department of Atomic Energy, former Director VECC and SINP)