“A noun, they told me at school
Is the name of a person, place or thing
I don’t know if I’m being a fool
But this last quantity is inclusive and worrying
‘Things’ like love, annoyance and hate
Are nouns classified as abstract.
Yet in myself they always create
Verbal sequences, moving, intact…”
From Eh Don’t Be Silly Yaar by Bachchoo
Here I am in the freezing cold standing outside the Tower of London wearing tattered woolen gloves, my breath turning visible as I hold my banner to attract the attention and support of the tourist queues.
The slogan on my banner says — “Angrez Chor, Kohinoor Waapas”.
The queues, mostly Hungarians, Arabs and Americans pay no attention, perhaps because they have never suffered the depredations of being ruled and looted by the British. (Or perhaps they don’t understand Hindustani? — Ed.)
I invited Shashi Tharoor and Willy Dalrymple, who are both experts in their own way on the British ransacking India and taking away the Kohinoor, to join me in this just demand, but they ignored my WhatsApp message, even though it was in clear English.
I must now look for other leaders of Indian opinion to join me on the picket line outside the Tower where I stand from sunrise to sunset each wintry British day until I am moved on by some racist London policeperson, or “Bobby” as we used to call them — a redundant term in this gender-fluid age as they may be women policepersons or indeed males who think they are women.
I have undertaken this sacrificial misery on behalf of our country (I have an Overseas Citizen of India card) hoping that some government will award me a Bharat Patnam (A Bharat-Pat-on-the-back)… (Why do you tell such lies? This is a respectable newspaper of record! Ed. — Sorry yaar, got carried away — fd.)
Oh, Ok, then. I am not outside the Tower of London but sitting in my centrally-heated study reading an article about the government of Easter Island demanding their treasured statue of the “God” Hoa Hakananai’a which was stolen from the island in 1868 and is today in the British Museum in London.
Easter Island is located 2,480 miles west of Chile, which annexed it in 1888.
The name Hoa Hakananai’a means “lost or stolen friend”, which is an irony which the sculptors who carved the basalt statue around 1200 AD uncannily predicted.
A delegation of the Easter islanders is now in London to ask the British Museum through the British government to return the statue, which has religious significance for the islanders. They have come with an offer to swap the original statue for a replica or other large statue carved from stone by a contemporary local sculptor. Like swapping a Titian for a photocopy?
It’s not a good time to approach the British government for anything. With 20 or so resignations recently from Theresa May’s government, no one can keep track of who the current ministers in any department are. I expect the delegation will have to approach the current minister for culture recruited perhaps from the ministry of prisons and deportation who may not know where Easter Island is, though he or she may know Mozart from Mozzarella. No, the British government this week is on a life-support machine and the decision on the transfer of statues, or indeed the Kohinoor diamond, will have to wait a few weeks — if not months.
Meanwhile, the British Museum has reacted to the request by pointing out that the Easter islanders have 899 other such statues, of different figures from their Polynesian narrative. They also contend that Easter Island is very remote and even despite the threat of Brexit looming, the British Museum has six million visitors each year and the “moai” figure, the class of icons to which this belongs, is one of the most popular and photographed exhibits in their collection.
However, the islanders think of the original as an object of worship. So, the balance is between a minority of believers and millions of selfie-takers. Gentle reader, I don’t know whose side to take.
Perhaps I do. Not worshipping much, I think the offer of a replica is good enough for me. Give the real thing back and let the pious indulge their pieties. I do suppose the tourists who line up outside the Tower of London, even in the bitter cold, may not do so if it were true that the real Kohinoor diamond wasn’t in the British crown, but that it had been removed and replaced with an authentic-looking carved piece of glass.
I have been assured by persons, whose authority may easily be regarded as suspect, that this is indeed the case — that the Kohinoor is stowed away somewhere safe and what we see when we visit the Tower of London is as fake as Donald Trump’s hair.
I started this column with a fabrication about my activities in pursuit of repatriation of the Kohinoor. Now the reason I haven’t translated this imagined protest into action on the streets is because I am torn by a dilemma. Suppose the Queen or Theresa, or the current minister for crown jewels and brass hats, whoever that is in the latest Cabinet reshuffle, does decide to agree to Mr Tharoor’s request and return the Kohinoor, to whom would she (the Queen) return it?
It used to belong to Ranjit Singh, whose capital was Lahore and before that to the ruler of Kashmir. Must it then be returned to Pakistan, or to Srinagar? It originally belonged to Lord Krishna and passed through the hands of several marauders. So how is one to return it to him?
One account says it was brought from the bottom of a holy river. The fairest solution, in defiance of material values which Lord Krishna himself told Prince Arjun were illusion and “maya”, would be to chuck it back into Ganges delta. Which is of course mostly Bangladesh....