Deccan Chronicle

Farrukh Dhondy | Of empires and their honours: A step backwards for UK diversity?

Deccan Chronicle.| Farrukh Dhondy

Published on: January 7, 2022 | Updated on: January 7, 2022

The signatories believe that instead of being knighted, Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal

Tony Blair who was made a knight, this year. (AP)

Tony Blair who was made a knight, this year. (AP)

"The poets proclaim, O Bachchoo
That even the rose has thorns
Their intentions are to tell you
That poetry often warns
Against the cult of beauty
Her face of many dimples
Who’ve done their alluring duty
May sprout in a dozen pimples.
But Bachchoo ignore the blemish
The rose still smells as sweet
Its colours we should relish
Oh … Worship at beauty’s feet!"

From Solemn Honeycomb, by Bachchoo

Each New Year Britain publishes a list of the Queen’s honours. This is a list of the new Lords, Baronesses, Sirs, Dames and lesser worthies who are blessed with being MBEs or OBEs, members or something or the other of the British Empire.

This year Tony Blair was made a knight and can henceforth sign himself, like our own Salman Rushdie before him, "Sir" Tony Blair. I chose him to mention out of a list of other knights and dames because a million signatories have united in a missive to Parliament to denounce him as a murderer for having joined the United States in its anti-Saddam war, sending British sons and brothers to be killed for chaos. The signatories believe that instead of being knighted, Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal. Uneasy lies the head that wears the PM’s responsibilities.

As I do each year, with degrees of mounting anticipation and then despair, I perused the lists in the newspapers and then the more trusted Internet, for the announcement that I had been made a peer of the realm. I have constantly sent emails to this peerage-nomination committee saying that when the Queen grants me the honour, I would want to be labelled Lord Dhondy of Doolally.

Peers have to choose a territory associated with their name, so allow me to explain. My ancestral Parsi family, gentle reader, though connected to Mumbai, owned vast acreage in Deolali. I don’t know whether my ancestors squandered this possible inheritance through indulgent habits (the usual -- gambling, drink, sex, drugs, rock and roll?) or whether, as the family lore tells it, the Raj army illegally squatted on our family lands and these passed, at Independence, to the Indian Army. Nevertheless, a house on a road remained in the family’s possession. And there is still in Deolali a "Dhondy Road". It may not be as well-known as the Champs Elysees or Oxford Street, but none of those are named after me and mine so I remain proud to be proud.

The problem of opting for the title of Lord Dhondy of Deolali is that the town’s name has been distorted by the British for millennia. It is referred to widely and commonly as Doolally, and it’s not a kind reference. But I feel that adopting the distorted name would be a permanent ironic blow to British imperialism.

The word Doolally is quite offensive. You see, there was in Deolali the all-India mental hospital for British soldiers and other Raj personnel who had mental problems. They were sent to the mental hospital there (It was definitely not on Dhondy land) and a phrase entered the English language. "He’s gone doolally" meant that he has been confined to the mental hospital in Deolali. There were other British corollaries to the word. When referring to an individual who was confined, the Brits would tap their foreheads with their forefingers and say "Doolally tap". What they meant was Deolali ki taap — the heat that infuriates and makes people insane.

So, there you have it. But let’s be frank and fair. I haven’t been very friendly or complimentary to or about BoJo’s government or to Priti Clueless or Hedgy Sunak. And OK, they give peerages to people who have handed over millions of pounds to their corrupt, swindling, intellectually-challenged Tory party. I have not a khoti damri — a counterfeit penny — as my grandmother used to say — to give to BoJo and gang. So, no lordship. Kya karein? — as my late friend Mahmood Jamal used to say — pardeys mey aakey koochh na koochh sehna padtha!
One response to the honours list by a good friend is worth noting. Paul notes in several media rants that black people he admires have accepted OBEs and MBEs. They have been rewarded as people who have contributed to society. Paul contends that they should have refused an honour which has the word "Empire" in it, as the British Empire was the cause of plenty of woes for the African, Caribbean and Indian sub-continental population.

Yes, there have been precedents of black people refusing this honour on the same grounds. But very many Black and Asian people have accepted it graciously. These include Doreen Lawrence whose son Stephen was murdered by idiot white racists at a bus stop in South London and she has campaigned against racial hatred since then.

Did Mrs Lawrence, in accepting the award, condone in any way the history of Empire? I’m sure she didn’t.

The name of these public service perception awards could be changed to anything. They could be called MBBLM — Member of the British Black Lives Matter award. It could be called the SSSA — the Super Service to Society Award. If, as Paul urges, all the recipients refuse the awards on the grounds that the prize includes the E for Empire, it would be a step forward for the linguistic revolution. But surely a step backward for the integration of the publicly-deserving in today’s diverse Britain?

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