Saturday, April 30, 2011

Succession in British Monarchy

For centuries now, succession to the British throne has always been to the first male, born to the ruler, unless there is no male offspring; like in the case of two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, born to King George VI. His death in 1952 automatically made the eldest daughter as Queen Elizabeth II who is currently reigning. Her husband Prince Philip is, however, her consort and can never be called King Philip.

Until her ascension, interestingly, she was always regarded as a ‘heir presumptive’, unlike her own first born son Prince Charles who was, and still is, the ‘heir apparent’ from the time he was born. She was called a presumptive heir because her father George VI before his death was still capable of producing a male offspring who could have ascended to the throne, even if he was many years younger than his sisters. And the King’s wife, of course, is always called a Queen unlike the other way round. So, understanding British Monarchy could be a bit tricky.

But now, in a surprising but welcome move, the British government has begun the process of reviewing the ancient, discriminatory rules of royal succession, so that if Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are getting married today, have a baby girl as their first child she would eventually become queen; even if a male succeeds this female child. However, amending the succession law would require agreement and similar legal overhauls in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the British monarch is the head of state, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Many are hoping the matter will be resolved before Kate Middleton begins producing children to avoid a confusing line of succession. In the last two centuries, the succession of British rulers from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II makes up a very interesting study.

Queen Victoria’s rule (1837-1901) was over an extremely vast British empire, which at that time had large parts of Africa, India, Japan, China, and some Atlantic and Pacific islands, within it. Queen Victoria's first child was a daughter — also called Victoria — but it was her younger brother who succeeded to the throne, as King Edward VII. This was the queen who faced the first war of Indian Independence from her Indian colonies, and appointed viceroys with military power instead of the East India Company which had held military power till then.

King Edward VII’s reign (1901 – 1910) was for about nine years. He had married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Their first son Prince Albert unfortunately died before the death of Edward VII. So the second son ascended to the throne as King George V. He had also married the fiancĂ© of his elder brother, Princess Mary of Teck.

King George V’s rule (1910 – 1936) had seen much turbulence as the First World War was quickly followed by industrial unrest in UK. It was in commemoration of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary that the ‘Gateway of India’ was built in Mumbai. So, that he and his queen would enter their Indian territory to meet their Indian subjects. His first son who became King Edward VIII caused a major storm in the monarchy’s succession law.

King Edward VIII’s rule (Jan 1936 – Dec 1936) of 11 months was the shortest in centuries of British monarchy. He caused a constitutional crisis, before his formal ascension to the throne, by proposing marriage to the American socialite Wallis Simpson, who had divorced her first husband and was seeking a divorce from her second. The prime ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominions opposed the marriage, arguing that the people would never accept a divorced woman with two living ex-husbands as queen. This would also conflict with his status as head of the Church of England, which opposed the remarriage of divorced people if their ex-spouse was still alive. Amidst the huge crisis, he chose to abdicate rather than give up Mrs Simpson. And his younger brother became the king, as George VI.

King George VI’s rule (1936-1952) began unexpectedly because as the second son of George V, he was always under the shadow of his elder brother, Edward, who was the heir apparent, groomed to inherit the throne, and who no one expected would abdicate. King George VI was not very strong, and had a voice impediment (made more famous by the recent Oscar winning movie on his life, The King’s Speech). But George VI took over from King Edward VIII and reigned well despite a Second World War during his term. King George VI’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother resulted in two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

Queen Elizabeth II’s rule (1952 onwards) began instantly with the death of her father King George VI when she was away from UK. With husband Prince Philip, she went to Kenya as ‘Princess Elizabeth’ but had to return to UK as ‘Queen Elizabeth II.’ She was 26 then. She was received at the airport by her then Prime Minister Winston Churchill along with Clement Atlee and Lord Mountbatten. Prince Philip, her consort, stayed back in the plane for a while to allow time for the new queen to emerge and meet the dignitaries and her new subjects. Since then, she has seen almost six decades of amazing changes in the world. And she and Prince Philip have four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales is heir apparent to the British throne; and second in line to the throne is his eldest son Prince William, from his first wife the late Princess Diana. Now, with his son’s marriage to Kate Middleton, all of UK and dominions of the commonwealth are eager to know if in case, the first child born to this couple will be a girl, will she be the future queen?

That, only time will tell. But for now, all eyes are on the marriage of a man who would be king.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Forbes 2011 Richest Fictional Characters - Shady or Not?

WHAT? I had to exclaim aloud, when I read that Scrooge McDuck has made it to the top of Forbes 2011 list of the 15 Richest Fictional Characters. His net worth is a staggering $44.1 billion (BD16.6bn), the report said. It even had pictures. But then, this Dickensian-Disney character, the uncle of Donald Duck, has always been a miser to the core, and must have amassed enough to reach this No 1 position.

But why did they push the poor little rich boy Richie Rich to the fourth place? And doesn't Bruce Wayne of Gotham city who turns into its night time protector as Batman deserve a higher place than eighth? And why is the corporate raider on Wall Street, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) relegated to the 14th place?

The list also had Twilight series character Carlisle Cullen, the icon amongst the young readers, Artemis Fowl II, and chief executive officer of Sabre Corporation from the The Office series, Jo Bennet.

Upon realising that this listing is not fiction, but a fact, I checked up the Forbes website and got deeply worried. The combined net worth of these 15 characters is equal to $135.55bn. Which means they could pose a great threat to countries like New Zealand whose GDP is much less.

Which brings me to another point, what do these guys at Forbes think the real GDP of Atlantis, the fictional city, would have been today? It must be calculated at the base rate of 50 BC, when Julius Caesar ruled Rome, two centuries after Pluto wrote about Atlantis. But, I digress.

Let me come back to my verification. I checked up and discovered to my utter shock that there are biographies, and even interviews with these characters, apart from explanations on how the net worth was calculated.

But I have my arguments against this listing. Why have they not taken into account other characters whose riches I think are worthy of their appearance in the list?

Where is Lex Luther, the archenemy of Superman? With Lex's huge investments into gigantic global projects, and superb scientific prowess, mainly aimed at annihilating Superman, shouldn't he be in the list?

Where is Captain Haddock, from Tintin series? With his forefather Red Rackham's treasure he gets as inheritance, and with his subsequent purchase of the sprawling estate with Marlinspike Hall, shouldn't he be in the list?

Where is Willie Wonka, whose Chocolate Factory is the world's best? With his scores of employees called oompa-loompas, and huge chocolate making plants, shouldn't his assets put him in the list?

They are not there. And I smell something fishy. I suspect some of these 15 rich characters have somehow bribed the guys at Forbes. With the riches at their disposal, who knows to what lengths these characters can go? Most are shady, anyway.

Published in Gulf Daily News on April 13, 2011


Monday, April 04, 2011

I cheered, like I did in 1983.

Twenty eight years ago, as a very young teenager, always hanging around with the neighbourhood’s big guys, I huddled around a small black and white TV set with them, watching live the 1983 Cricket World Cup Finals. 

It was India against the mighty – at that time, considered almighty - West Indies!

Can India ever beat these giants of cricket? The giants who had won in 1975 and 1979, the only two times the World Cup was held? And the giants who, in 1983, were now gunning for a hat trick?

It was way past midnight in India, when at the Lord’s in London, much to our delight, one by one, Gordon Greenridge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Larry Gomes, Clive Lloyd, SFAF Bachhus, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, and Michael Holding... all fell down

Yes. It is important to mention all the names of these titans. They were, indeed, a formidable team of that time. I had never known any foreign team’s full batting order as I did the West Indies’ then. 

Mohinder Amarnath and Madan Lal together, literally ran a truck through the West Indies team taking six wickets, three each. They left two wickets to BS Sandhu, and one each to Roger Binny and Kapil Dev. 

And, thus the seemingly big and invincible Caribbean team was completely demolished even before they could reach 140 while chasing a target of 183 that India had set.

The giants had fallen! And at the fall of the last wicket, of Michael Holding to Mohinder Amarnath, we had erupted into such loud applause of joy that we almost woke up the entire neighbourhood. 

What a match!! What a night! When India became the world champions!

Now again, yesterday, as a grown up, as an adult, when Dhoni hit that final six, making India win the World Cup again, I was unable to contain myself, and screamed with the same delight that I had had 28 years ago. Despite that sudden deadly silence that hung in the air when Sehwag and Sachin left the field, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni brought back cheers to Indians the world over. And the climax was heart-pounding.

Today, one of the friends who had watched that 1983 finals on TV, at the same time, wrote on my facebook wall, saying, ‘Isn’t it surprising that from 14 to 41, the digits of my age have reversed, but my excitement has not diminished’? I had to just say, touchĂ©!

Just like the black and white memory I have, of Kapil Dev lifting the Prudential World Cup in 1983, I will now carry in my mind, a colourful picture of this World Cup 2011, of Dhoni and Sachin being carried on the shoulders of their team members. 

And will I, or will those millions around the world, ever forget the tears of joy on the faces of Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Sachin? Will I, or will those millions around the world ever forget the final six that Dhoni swung into the crowds? It is indeed pure magic. Joy unspeakable.

What a day for us, the cricket-crazy Indians, across the globe that all the years of waiting for a second World Cup are finally over. We had to still struggle, with the three time champions, Australia, with one time champion, Pakistan, and with one time champion, Sri Lanka. But we came through - no, zoomed through - into a final brilliant explosion of sheer delight.

The roar of the crowds on the television, and the roar of the horde of friends in my living room, are still reverberating in my ears, and might take quite a while to subside.


Some special credits,

Then, in 1983..

  • To Surender anna, in whose house we watched those 1983 matches

  • To Deena Kumar bava, whose passion for cricket was simply too contagious to resist

  • To Vidya Sagar Karnam and gang with whom we screamed our lungs out

Now, in 2011..

  • To Arthi, Pauline and Joyce for the snacks, food, and drinks, (apart from whistles & hoots)

  • To Lorraiane and her cheerleaders, for cheering so well that my landlord is now threatening to evict me.

  • To Aldrin Bogi, whose comment I used here.

  • To my daughters, Jennifer and Janelle, who are still dazed at the behavior of 'adults'.