A Royal Craze

By Shyama Parui

On a mundane morning, I was driving my two sleepyheads to school when I noticed a familiar face on the window of a pickup truck. It was a sticker of Queen Elizabeth smiling above the dented and mud splattered exterior of the aging vehicle. The hilarious sight livened up the conversation in the car as we conjectured theories about the causes of a royal craze.

It's hard to miss the bold headlines of tabloids at the airport or grocery store that scream gossip about Prince William and Harry and their respective wives or the popularity of Netflix's The Crown. I must confess that I too have peered through those magazines and royal bio-pic kind of shows out of curiosity.

That same desire to know more, motivates me to explore museums. Forts and palaces preserved as museums entice me with their intriguing history and the dark secrets they may hold.

The opportunity to stay at two palace-hotels in India, offering regal treatment and opulent interiors, was a memorable experience for our family. As we toured through the exquisite properties, we caught glimpses of the luxury and privilege that characterized the lifestyle of erstwhile royal families and in some ways still do. Most of the local people we came across were still in awe of the current descendants of past rulers and seemed to revere these honorary monarchs. Coronation and other regal ceremonies continue to this day.

The fact that the “Maharajas" or “Rajkumars" have no formal authority and that the state had democratically elected leaders, appeared to be matters of small consequence. Were we caught in a time warp? I scratched my head and wondered.

A bigger mystery is the fascination that Americans have for royals. We take pride in our democracy, fierce sense of independence and individuality but we adore any head that wears a crown. We encourage paparazzi to follow an apathetic guy on the street because the poor fellow is 325th in line to inherit a vague royal title.

This obsession is fodder for the rumor mills in the publishing world as they thrive on nuggets of news and gossip about these otherwise mortal human beings. They must have their cup runneth over!

A passage through time will illustrate that powerful emperors not only offered leadership and protection to their kingdoms but also provided patronage to artists and other traders.

Like any government, their effectiveness varied but they provided the foundation to grow existing economies often bringing prosperity.

Exquisite monuments showcasing the arts and architecture as well as intellectual and literary treasures grew under successful kings and queens with Emperor Akbar being the oft-quoted example in India.

Atrocities and wasted wealth

Sadly, on the flip side were the ambitious, maniacal, ruthless, or simply incompetent rulers who committed horrific atrocities on humans, wasted their wealth or destroyed their states due to poor decisions. Often the grandeur of their gilded crowns and jewels came at the expense of their subjects and colonies.

As an Indian it is impossible for me to overlook the oppression that the British Crown subjected India to and as an American, I cannot ignore the grave injustices committed against the native peoples of this land by colonists who worked under direction of various European monarchs.

The allure of the sparkles and power can, however, be irresistible. From ancient times, the queens and princesses were the original fashion influencers with the authority to coax or even force the average person to follow a trend.

Literature and cinema have dedicated an entire genre to center around His and Her Majesties thereby stoking vivid fantasies about strategic maneuvers in extravagant settings. In today's world, the average person who memorizes publicly available details about the princes of an obscure nation, perhaps feels an unknown connection with them. That feeling might lift him or her out of ordinariness and allow the romanticized version of glamorous lives to be experienced vicariously.

Wealth, fame, and power

Easy access to information has also exacerbated celebrity worship. And let's not deny that most people either openly or secretly desire fame, wealth and power that is often associated with royals.

Our culture considers these measures important for success and rewards their acquisition in the form of status and attention. And when we are struck by boredom, contemporary tittle-tattle offers an escape from the drab routines of work or household chores and diverts our judgement or criticism toward seemingly perfect people with magical lives.

After all, we like being assured that no one can have it all.

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Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com