The streets of London are decked with Christmas buntings, spectacular lights and bunches of berries and holly as music jingles at every roadside corner — and one could never imagine that the country is now heading into a winter of strikes. All the popular tourist hubs like Covent Gardens, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, all the museums and shows are packed with a festive crowd — even while the economy is in recession, and will be for some time.
The spiralling cost of living is beginning to pinch pockets and the first to state their intention to strike, unless their pay is raised, are the nurses. This, of course, will be nothing less than catastrophic as the NHS depends on them. One hopes the government manages to convince them as they seem determined to go ahead — followed by the teachers and railway employees. Times are tough. Now, all those who need to travel or require hospital appointments can only keep their fingers crossed that there is minimum disruption. December promises to be more cold and hard than ever, especially with rising fuel bills.
However, one community whose spirits are definitely not dampened are those of Indian origin. It is all balle-balle for them — purely because Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken over. All difficulties pale into insignificance as each continues to treat his rise like a personal achievement. The euphoria has not died down. There are many get-togethers, award ceremonies and parties — where people thump each other on the back and talk about their thrill at having an Asian at the helm. They all hark back to the colonial times (though most of them grew up when the colonies had long got their independence) and feel somehow ‘avenged’ for all that had happened. In a small way perhaps, but I can see the gleam in their eyes!
It is not as though the Sunak administration is having an easy time — apart from the strikes, there is also restlessness growing within the Tory Party, as the financial plan set out by the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and PM Rishi Sunak may have stabilised the markets but it has not pleased the country or the party. While they have spread out the pain of paying higher taxes onto the big earners — they have also brought more into the tax net. And Sunak-Hunt have been speaking about the difficult times ahead for everyone. Naturally if inflation is rising, for many reasons — especially the high cost of fuel — there is little the chancellor can do. But perhaps after the disastrous Liz Truss “mini budget” when the pound had sunk, people (including those in the Tory Party) were “Hunt”-ing for the silver lining. It isn’t visible as yet — so now everyone is concerned that the high costs of living and the upcoming strikes mean more dark clouds. A few Conservative MPs have already stated their intention not to fight the elections in two years’ time.
And to make matters worse, Scotland is demanding another referendum so that they can get Independence. Indeed it will be an irony if someone of Indian origin presides over a ‘Partition’ of the UK.
Socially, of course, when things get bad, good Samaritans step into the breach. In fact, now Indian charities have also begun to operate here, doing very good work. There has been, of late, a lot of discussion for the need for food banks and even NGOs like Akshaypatra — which distribute food in India — are working in the UK, and we have attended their very successful fundraising sessions as well.
The rising levels of poverty may not have reached Dickensian levels as yet, but hunger is definitely being discussed and addressed. Let’s hope things improve!
Perhaps the mood will change dramatically if England wins the World Cup in Qatar.
But one aspect which continues to be on the upswing in the UK is the rich cultural life: the theatre, the art — and the exhibitions!
Recently we went to the British Library to view Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth. Since Alexander — who died at the age of 36, after having conquered half the world — was a personal hero when I was growing up — I could not help but be delighted to read the manifold legends which have grown around him, represented here with objects from 25 countries. Of course, in India he became more of an anti-hero, having defeated Porus in what would be his last battle. The exhibition is abundant with the various texts written about him and his exploits — including the Greek Alexander Romance, published 750 years ago, and which became the primary source for many of the later writers. Though of course he was born close to 2,500 years ago, he has continued to fascinate scholars, filmmakers and artistes even in India. So the exhibition included excerpts from Sikander, the Sohrab Modi film made in 1941, and another TV series Porus made in 2017. His myth has grown further since many world religions and countries have tried to appropriate him. Truly a global figure — and no wonder many political leaders today would wish they had his charisma and intellect. Perhaps an impossible wish as he was taught by Aristotle!