Shashi Tharoor has been in the news recently for raking up our colonial past. Dressed in an elegant blue kurta, he captured the hearts and minds of the liberal elite when he threw a hissy fit during a televised debate, demanding in dulcet Oxbridge tones that Britain make reparations for the sins of the past by paying a single symbolic rupee. To imagine that such an enormous crime could be absolved by paying a monetary ransom is daft; to demand a rupee is merely adding insult to injury. On the other side of the debate were the Colonel Blimp imperialists who matched Tharoor's confected outrage decibel for decibel, insisting that things were much better during colonial times.
Apparently there was no corruption, the trains all ran on time and there was 'total discipline'; as to what precisely is meant by the final phrase of that unholy trinity, I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps the natives accepted their rations of kanji and flogging with a stiff upper lip? Maybe the East India Company was the Gates Foundation of the 18th century, who knows? And then of course we had the fence-sitting imbeciles who helpfully suggested that the "collateral damage" of colonialism was the railways, democracy and the bureaucracy.
And let's not forget English, the language of Shakespeare, though one wonders how that worthy would have handled a Twitter account? 140 characters, forsooth, a pox upon both thy houses. I was rather underwhelmed by the fuss; instead of ranting about our colonial past, I would prefer to focus on the more elegant aspects of our Victorian legacy. I wish Clive and Mountbatten had spent more time on good manners, understatement and decent gin and tonic instead of inflicting the bureaucracy on us. Here are a few charming British habits we could have imbibed, inspired by a 2016 Telegraph piece by Norman Miller.
"Do the British really blurt out apologies far more than anyone else? Afraid so. Sorry, old chap. A recent survey found the average Briton says sorry an average of eight times a day and some up to twenty times. In a social anthropological experiment, researchers deliberately bumped into hundreds of people across the country, and found 80 per cent of people barged into apologised." If that were to happen on say, Brigade Road, the emergency services would be hard pressed to deal with the demand for ambulances. "Aiyyo guru, avanu sorry hale bittu hogidane…heart failure banthu.."
Brits have made understatement an art-form. Desperate situations other nationals would call a life-threatening crisis are described as "a bit of a pickle" or 'a spot of bother'. As his limbs are lopped off by King Arthur, the Black Knight in Monty Python dismisses each blow as "just a scratch, come on you pansy". I remember accompanying the artist, Nic Fiddian Green to visit a friend suffering from cancer in the Royal Marsden Hospital who responded to a query about his well-being with a cheery, "Mustn't grumble." Comparisons are odious but we seem like a bunch of pathetic whiners who moan about cricket, Modi, Rahul and the quantum of jaggery in the sambhar.
Some people wring their hands over the boisterousness that afflicts many British town centres on the weekend, but it's all a part of the deep-rooted British passion for boozing that goes back centuries. Plus it's fairly civilized, despite the public image of lager louts going on the rampage after a soccer match. Beer festivals allow fans of fine ale to get pleasantly plastered, while posher folk knock back a bottle of good wine every night. Here we imbibe that ghastly tipple known as IMFL which is rectified spirit made of molasses, polluted with caramel and congeners which makes everything from whisky to vodka taste the same. We have a national bird and a national animal, but why don't we have a national spirit? Why not the potent liquor from the mahua flower harvested by tribals and sold to middlemen for the princely sum of Rs 7/ per kg.
Sadly, except for the remarkable entrepreneur, Desmond Nazareth, who is moving heaven and earth to pay his tribal harvesters a fair price for their labour, mahua is virtually unknown among the hard-drinking millenials who do shots at bars, more's the pity. If one were to go by the dictum that the drunken man speaks the truth, no wonder we spout such gibberish when plastered. From fake alcohol to fake news is a short step....