The cruel mother-in-law is a familiar and popular trope all over the world, not far behind the stepmother as a proxy for the evil witch. Curiously, there’s no alternative, counter-balancing trope of a cynical, calculating and manipulative daughter-in-law who rents asunder the existing close bonds in a family.
I was born in India after independence and grew up in a free republic. Even while absorbing many of the idioms and iconic stories from our British political-education legacy, we were also socialised into the anti-British strains of the independence struggle and viewed many familiar historical milestones through completely different lens. This came together in a popular explanation for why the sun never set on the British Empire: because even God would not trust an Englishman in the dark. In the second half of the last century, that ambivalence was transferred to the Americans and best captured in the placard being waved by the anti-Vietnam War protestor in the streets of Calcutta during my university days there: ‘Yankee! Go home – and take me with you’.
On the other hand, I left Calcutta (since renamed Kolkata) for Canada and in the course of my wanderings have lived and worked, among other places, in New Zealand and Australia and collected citizenships in all three. This means I have sworn the oath of loyalty to Her Majesty three times in her capacity as the Queen of Canada, New Zealand and Australia. I feel impelled accordingly to defend her and ‘the Firm’ against the attacks from Meghan Markle in the infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey. Full disclosure: I have not watched the interview, not even a minute of it, and have no intention of doing so. My comments are based on accounts of it in print.
To start with, the Queen’s life is a story of duty to country and the multiracial Commonwealth carried out with unfailing grace, dignity and decorum. Between the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, who does and does not fit in with this lifestyle? To ask the question is to answer it. Markle gives the impression she had a glamourised vision of what marrying into the royal family would be like. The measure of self-discipline and onerous restrictions on independence and personal freedoms proved too suffocating, which is easy enough to understand. The press can indeed behave with no sense of moral compass, violate peoples’ privacy – who can forget the phone-hacking scandals – and turn viciously on someone. But the search for privacy taking her to a tell-all interview with the Queen of TV that turned out to be a self-indulgent settling of scores? A couple that has complained loudly about press intrusions was happy to wash the family laundry in public for millions of viewers. Their remarks and ‘revelations’ were calculated to inflict the maximum damage on her husband’s family. No matter what the provocation, that is unforgiveable. She has a long history of manipulating the media to boost her celebrity status. She can make truly awful accusations against her in-laws. No proof required. The warmth with which she was welcomed by the family – remember the touching scene when Prince Charles walked her down the wedding aisle owing to the absence of her father? – as well as press and people, makes the charge of racism implausible.
Why say things without substantiation that will make the estrangement from his family irreparable? Because she names no names, provides no context and fails to specify exactly what was said, the entire royal family is smeared and that too on the flimsiest of reasoning. This is not courageous but cowardly. Someone wondered about the skin colour of the child while he was still in the womb. Well cry me a river in a $20 million mansion in Santa Barbara. As an inter-racial family that is increasingly common in the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US, we wondered the same about our children and speculated on it on multiple occasions. And repeated the experience with the next generation. As soon as this article is done, I’m off to enrol myself in cultural re-education class to exorcise this deep-seated unconscious racism. So, sorry, but until and unless we are provided with some context and specificity about who made the remark, that sounds like interested curiosity rather than malicious racism.
Along with racism, mental health and thoughts (ideation, in the current jargon) of suicide have been weaponised by wannabe victims in the proliferating grievance culture. I’m afraid for once my instincts are similar to those of Piers Morgan. President Joe Biden has praised Markle’s courage for talking openly about feeling suicidal. But the charge that the pleas for help of a five-month pregnant Duchess of Sussex expressing suicidal thoughts would be dismissed with the comment that it ‘wouldn’t be good for the institution’ is, on the face of it, implausible. Once again, we need more specificity and context. On its own, this simply doesn’t ring true. Who was that callous palace official? What stopped the couple from seeking treatment directly from the several mental health charities with which they are connected?
In the interview Markle claimed her son not being a prince ‘would be different from protocol’. Displaying the racial prism through which she views everything, Markle said Archie is ‘the first member of colour in this family not being titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be’. This is factually wrong as well as incendiary. Someone so conscious of titles should know that her son cannot be called a prince at present. Under existing rules going back to 1917, the titles of prince and princess are limited to children of the monarch, children of the monarch’s sons and the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. In other words, Archie cannot be prince with the Queen as monarch but will be due the title if and when Prince Charles becomes King.
But what if the interview has damaged the prospects of this happening? Now that would be karma.
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