“Realists live with reality’s discomforts
Fantasists with the mind’s deceits
Realists inherit life’s hard hurts
Fantasists their due receipts..”
— From The Cry of the Dead Dodo by Bachchoo
The heads of Commonwealth nations meet this week in London. They will, undoubtedly, discuss trade deals after Britain leaves the European Union, if it does. The other topic will be the succession to the Commonwealth’s headship as the Queen is in her 90s.
Prince Charles, heir to the throne is a possible successor but there is no hard and fast constitutional requirement or tradition that he should automatically assume the role. There may be other nominations, some of them seeking in a much-altered world to shift the focus of the ex-colonies from the ex-colonial centre.
In the same week, two revelations have surfaced in the British and international media. The first, which should be, and is embarrassing for Britain’s Home Office and in particular for Theresa May.
In the 1950s and early 60s, when the West Indies were still part of the British Empire and its people imperial subjects of the crown, a migration of families from these Caribbean Islands came to Britain to take up low-paid or difficult jobs that the British working class had abandoned. A health minister at the time, one Enoch Powell, advertised for nursing and menial hospital staff to come over to Britain and the Caribbean population responded.
The migrant families had young children who arrived on Empire passports on a ship called the Empire Windrush and they have since been dubbed the “Windrush generation”.
These children are now in their 60s and 70s, having lived since their infancy or childhood in Britain assuming they were British citizens. Recently, under the home ministership of Ms May and of her successor Amber Rudd, the immigration services of Britain have traced these Windrush arrivals, challenged them to prove their right to stay in Britain, taken some of them away to detention camps for illegal entrants and threatened some with deportation.
The one way that the Windrushers could prove their right to remain would have been through the records of arrivals at the ports on which they alighted. These records were, for reasons unexplained, destroyed in 2010 under the then home ministership of Ms May.
I arrived in Britain on an Indian passport in the mid-1960s. There was no requirement for me to have an entry visa at the time.
In the mid-1980s, the home office wrote to me, saying I was entitled to have a British passport and if I wanted to retain the Indian one, I would have to live in Britain with periodic leave from the home office. I took the British passport option. It wasn’t, for some unknown reason, offered to the Windrush generation.
It’s possible that the complaints from the potential deportees to their MPs brought Parliament’s attention to the state of affairs this week. Parliament debated it and several of the Windrushers talked of this unexpected occurrence and Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth countries were given space in the media to react.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd immediately apologised in Parliament, admitting she didn’t know how many, if any, of the Windrushers had already been deported and assured the world that the status of all of them would be regularised.
This is just and welcome. It should be the end of the blundering, petty affair, assuming, of course, that it was a bureaucratic oversight. Again, the unfortunate coincidence is that the news of this intrusive and distressing circumstance surfaced in the week of the 50th anniversary of one of the most notorious speeches in recent British history repeated in the media today.
In 1968, when the Windrush generation was firmly ensconced in servicing the hospitals, buses, trains and factories of Britain the same MP, Enoch Powell, a brilliant orator in his own right, made this theatrical speech. He wasn’t using his skills as Henry Vth did at Agincourt (at least, in the Shakespearean version) to encourage his troops to fight the French. Neither was it Churchill’s rhetoric about fighting the Nazi peril on the beaches and streets.
Mr Powell was calling on the British nation to recognise the peril that threatened Britain through the presence of immigrants. It was a naked call for the sort of action that a fascist government might have taken. Mr Powell’s speech resulted in some threat and some friction in the ensuing weeks and years but it led to his having to migrate as a member of Parliament from the largely industrial working-class constituency of Wolverhampton to virtual exile and obscurity as an MP for a Protestant constituency in Northern Ireland.
The second revelation of this Commonwealth conference week is that Queen Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed. The claim was first put forward by the very scholarly and respectable genealogists of the recording journal Burke’s Peerage.
It would be possible but tedious, gentle reader, to reproduce here the 42 stages of succession from the Prophet to the Queen — like the Old Testament’s so-and-so begat hoojamflit who begat whatsanozzle ….. Let’s just say that the Umayyad caliphate carried Muhammad’s direct line to Morocco, thence to Spain, Portugal and by marriage to the Duke of Cambridge, grandfather of Edward IV of England.
This is fantastic news. Had Mahatma Gandhi known about it would he have, instead of stimulating the Khilafat movement to restore the Ottoman Emperor to be the Caliph, championed the claim of George Vth? Who can say?
Or if Jinnah knew that Mountbatten had the Prophet’s blood in his veins, would he have approached the abolition of the Raj so ardently? Again, shrugs!
And if Henry VIII had known he was part of the Prophet’s family would he have declared a Protestant Christian kingdom? Richard, the Lion Heart, the crusader? — Oh! hang on, was that before Edward IVth, sorry.
In a future column, dear reader, I shall trace my direct descent from the Prophet Zarathustra, through my great, great, great etc. 99 times grandmother, Bepsi Kohla.
(Author Farrukh Dhondy, In his words: “I am just a professional writer, which means I don’t do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write.”)
(British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: AFP)