The Prince’s seat-wallah

HOW terribly uncharitable of the British media to highlight the seat-wallah incident at the SP Swimming pool complex in Delhi during the recent visit of the heir apparent to the British throne, Prince Charles.

A photo by Arthur Edwards which was published in The Telegraph

Now, if you are ignorant about the incident which is being referred to here, you are easily forgiven. While the Indian media was busy documenting various official visits of the Prince and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, The Telegraph, London, got a picture that showed an official “who is believed to work for the British High Commission” flipping down a seat, like the one we see in movie theatres, while the Prince waited and hitched up his trouser legs before being seated. He was later being joined by The Earl of Wessex, who is the Vice-Patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Why, The Telegraph has even made a list of everyday chores that The Prince of Wales does not perform, like picking up his clothes after changing, squeezing tooth paste onto his brush and some other acts of a somewhat delicate nature, all based on hearsay.

At the heart of the matter is a fundamental shift in social mores. The very society that exported the tradition of titles and honours to its colonies has now spawned a culture that is antithetical to them.

We on the other hand, have not only adopted the colonial practices as our own, we have embellished them and shown the world how well democratic practices can work with traditional, read Imperial and feudal, ones.

No one in India even noticed the incident. After Delhi, where we dazzled the world with our spectacular success at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, the Prince and the Duchess were feted by the Houses of Patiala and Jodhpur, both of whom have a tradition of performing this role for generations. Surely, they know how to take care of such needs, without any intrusive reporters spoiling the fun.

All, however, is not lost for the royalists. The same report mentioned how the royal couple stayed with “the Maharaja and Maharani of Patiala in the Moti Bagh Palace after joining them for a gala dinner. The Duchess wore an ice blue Bruce Oldfield silk dress with a lace overdress, set off by a diamond and aquamarine necklace.” The item does not mention what the Prince and his hosts wore.

The Maharajas had a host of titles given to them by the ancestors of the Prince of Wales, but India abolished the titles in 1971. However, perks and posh quarters are taken for granted by our bureaucracy and the armed forces, as are hierarchies and squadrons of servants. The news that a seat wallah has been engaged for this purpose is surely of their interest, since it sets a wonderful precedent! In fact, there is no doubt that there will be much hand wringing about not having thought of it first.

One of the titles of former Maharajas that I have always found interesting is Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia or “the chosen son and wealth of the English”. It’s a pity that we can’t hand out titles these days. However, almost four decades of abolishing monarchy we still know what it means. In the interest of improving international relations, in our land of erstwhile monarchies and what were five rivers, we should have a permanent position for a seat wallah for to the real Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia.

Surely, if the Punjab Public Service Commission were to get cracking, we would have it in place before the next royal visit.

The middle by Roopinder Singh was published on the Editorial page of The Tribune on October 11, 2010.

You may also like to read my piece on the Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales, after her death.

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