The only advantage of having Donald Trump in situ across the pond was that he made Boris Johnson look like a genius. But now that Trump has gone, Boris remains the only blonde leader who is raising temperatures, even at the outset of winter. Not sure if that is something the British want, while many struggle with yet another lockdown, waiting for the vaccine to miraculously arrive on Santa’s sleigh.
For some of us (such as writers like me) who have working from home for years now, the lockdown has actually been a boon — and my latest book on Devika Rani, completed during this period, will soon be in bookshops and virtual stores. But for those whom going to office was an essential part of the job, this has been an extremely difficult year. So one hopes that we will not end it on a note of despair.
The second lockdown, in fact, has evoked greater anger among the public and much less support for the government, alas. There is a division even within Boris’s own backbenchers. Travel is banned; pubs and restaurants are shut. We know the rules but we like them less and less. Even the Queen rushed back to Windsor from her Scottish home last Wednesday so she could spend the lockdown near London. Of course, her convoy of cars got stuck in a traffic jam but then help was at hand and her party escaped by driving on the wrong side of the road.
Halloween, the American festival with pumpkins and children in scary makeup going from door to door asking for “trick or treat” comes on the same day as Guy Fawkes Night in England. In the past, the “Guy” effigy was usually burnt in a large bonfire. Many local municipalities organised large public bonfires in open parks where families could gather to watch the effigies go up in smoke. But then, in politically correct England the burning has been banned. And of course, all gatherings are off the calendar.
And so, one thought, at least Halloween would provide a bit of fun for the kids. “Lockdown” Halloween turned out to be a muted affair: there were a few crackers but no children wandering from door to door.
Strange isn’t it that so many of these harvest festivals have lights and firecrackers associated with them? Though fewer are being celebrated with fire and fervour, and soon these may become part of history.
Diwali is being celebrated at a distance as well. Now of course, PIOs (People of Indian Origin) are valuable voters. So the leaders of the major political parties were part of a digital Global Diwali Festival lasting from Friday to Sunday, organised by the energetic Manoj Ladwa. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, also made a speech in which he managed to get Rama, Sita and Ravan into his message (without for once making any mistakes!) along with a mention of samosa and gulabjamun and then connected it all with a conquest over Covid. Now we are waiting for Kamala Harris to do the same.
It was bound to happen. Rishi Sunak became the Chancellor of the Exchequer just days before we became aware of the coronavirus epidemic. He presented a budget in mid-March and soon he was presenting one supplementary giveaway after another. His popularity led to his being talked about as substitute for Boris. And why not? He is young, intelligent and capable!
Now for the first time there is a somewhat negative biography written by a Conservative grandee, Lord Ashcroft, titled Going for Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak. It is ironic that Lord Ashcroft, no stranger to controversy himself criticises Rishi for being successful in making money! There are also a few unpalatable remarks in it about the Infosys chairperson, and Rishi’s father in law, Narayan Murthy. Strange, isn’t it, success has its critics, all over the world?
A complete contrast is provided by a new biography of Shapurji Saklatwala who was Labour MP for Battersea North during the 1920s and a Communist as well. Comrade Sak has been written by Mark Wadsworth, himself the child of a Jamaican father and a Finnish mother who has been in the Labour Left for a long while. Saklatwala was the third Parsi MP following Dadabhai Naoroji and Mancherji Bhownagari in the 1890s. Like them he was actively interested in fighting for Indian Independence.
It is a sign of how far we have come that two books on Saklatwala and Rishi Sunak can be out at the same time.
And I am happy to say that Marina Wheeler’s book on her family will also be out soon. And because it contains information on the Partition, she had been in touch with us for material on Sargodha from the Partition Museum. Marina is, of course, the Prime Minister’s former wife, and is also related to the late author Khushwant Singh. She has kindly invited me for the virtual launch. Looking forward to it!
Kishwar Desai is an award winning author. Her book The Longest Kiss: The Life and Times of Devika Rani will be published next month.