Yes, this was Valentine week, and what a perfect storm was ushered in — with ice and snow! Usually, these storms are named after women — but this time it was named, quite aptly, Darcy — after the romantic hero from Pride and Prejudice.
Of course, Darcy was not immediately warm and attractive for Lizzie and so the naming may have been more appropriate than we realised — because temperatures dropped to minus 23c, (though only in Scotland and not, luckily, in London). Our days occasionally started often deceptively with the sun struggling to come out but withdrawing humiliated and ceding the ground to snow. But Darcy, in the novel, turned out to be a perfect lover — and so perhaps we can hope for warmer days as the sun now is beginning to shine.
But we are cheering up as the number of those vaccinated keeps rising. Now we are nearly at 14 million, which is a fifth of the population. People do feel better just at the thought, even those who are waiting patiently in the queue to be called up. And it seems that those over 85 are not being affected as badly by Covid. Somehow things have gone right at last after a whole year.
But right now the problem is for those who had invested in the other “V” — vacations! Everything began to be cancelled as people rushed home since quarantine deadlines were being announced. But, folks, this is UK — we are still waiting to find out if we can book a summer holiday — but without being quarantined with compulsory isolation for seven days in hotels landing us with bills up to £10,000. If you can find a hotel that is. But the punishment for evading isolation is 10 years in jail! Finally, the UK government is being tough, but for many it appears (especially for those from India) that this toughness should have been imposed much earlier. Stricter travel bans and quarantine may have stopped the virus from spreading the way it did.
Our life has become strange. We are constantly debating new variants of Covid which are being found and then which vaccine does or does not work. The entire nation has become an epidemiological expert, with some inspirational and unexpected heroes emerging, and leaving us. The passing away of Sir Thomas More, the centenarian soldier who raised thirty-five million pounds by walking one hundred times around the front of his house became a day of national mourning. It is people like him who have reinforced the spirit of philanthropy even as the world as we knew it, changes.
But now, some other changes may take place in Parliament bringing good cheer — and with an Indian origin MP at the heart of it. Time was when there were hardly any women in Parliament. Tony Blair proudly headed a government which brought the number of women MPs above hundred (out of 650). Now we have women ministers but even so the rules remain masculine. Suella Braverman, the Indian origin attorney general, found out that she had to resign since she was pregnant, and there was no provision for maternity leave in the parliamentary rules. So a bill is to be passed putting that anomaly right. But then what about women backbench MPs? Justice demands all should have equal rights. It is here that things began to get complicated. In these woke times, can you refer to “women” in a Parliamentary Act or should it be gender-free? The LGBTQ lobby is alert to slightest slippage on this front. And then what about paternity leave if maternity leave is granted? Whatever the issue, men never lose. It turns out the statutory maternity pay of £152 per week is just half of national minimum wage. Well… the 39-year-old attorney general’s baby may bring about a much-needed revolution in maternity and paternity benefits for MPs yet!
And I cannot resist ending on a personal note! Ever since Amish Tripathi, the noted author and director of the Nehru Centre took over, he has expanded the scope of the Nehru Centre functions — and thanks to Covid everything is online. So unlike in the old days when we trooped in for tea and samosas and gathered in the auditorium, now all functions have a much larger virtual audience — from across the world (with a large saving in tea and samosas!).
So on the 19th of February, do join in at the Nehru Centre (virtually) for a discussion on my new book, The Longest Kiss: The Life And Times of Devika Rani. Devika was the great-grandniece of Rabindranath Tagore, and her debut film in 1933, Karma, was premiered at the Marble Arch theatre. She won rave reviews from the London critics — a feat that has never been quite repeated by any Indian heroine, in the last 90 years!