The TasTe Of Re­gReT

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

What does UK’s exit from the EU mean for Lon­don’s rep­u­ta­tion as the world’s gourmet cap­i­tal? The an­swer, as al­ways, lies with the peo­ple

BUT WHY,” asked the very nice lady at Im­mi­gra­tion at Heathrow, “would you not take a Bri­tish pass­port if you were born in Lon­don?” I am used to the ques­tion by now, so I gave my stan­dard re­ply about be­ing a proud In­dian and that de­spite the un­doubted ad­van­tage a Brit pass­port of­fered a fre­quent vis­i­tor (you don’t need visas for most coun­tries), I was very happy with my In­dian pass­port.

But of course, the UK I re­mem­ber is very dif­fer­ent from to­day’s UK. When I was born, the Com­mon­wealth was The Big Thing. Com­mon­wealth cit­i­zens didn’t need visas and it was brown peo­ple who made the Na­tional Health Ser­vice pos­si­ble and West In­di­ans who ran the buses, tubes and trains. Over the decades the Com­mon­wealth con­tri­bu­tion to the UK’s cul­tural life pretty much trans­formed the coun­try. The West In­di­ans gave the Brits reg­gae and we gave them Bhangra and Bol­ly­wood. was all about. They came with noth­ing, set up lit­tle cor­ner shops, worked 18-hour days and to­day hun­dreds of them are mil­lion­aires: a tri­umph of Gu­jarati and Pun­jabi en­ter­prise. But by the early Seven­ties, the UK had a new ob­ses­sion. After hav­ing been kicked around by Charles de Gaulle for years, Bri­tain was fi­nally al­lowed into the EEC or the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity, a com­mon mar­ket. The old “Com­mon­wealth Pass­ports” queues dis­ap­peared at Heathrow. Euro­peans (nearly all of them white and many, blonde and blue-eyed) were told they could just walk through the im­mi­gra­tion coun­ters. We, on the other hand, were told to get visas, a process that still can take weeks.

The Bri­tish voted to stay in the EEC in 1975 but soon the Com­mon Mar­ket gave way to a quasipo­lit­i­cal struc­ture called the Euro­pean Union and any Euro­pean was guar­an­teed right of res­i­dence, em­ploy­ment, ben­e­fits etc in the UK.

The old Com­mon­wealth guys who had helped con­struct post-War Bri­tain were told that they were still wel­come to stay (“we are a multi-cul­tural so­ci­ety”) but could they please ask their rel­a­tives and friends to stay at home in Dhaka or Delhi or Nairobi or wher­ever. (If how­ever they had White rel­a­tives in Syd­ney or Mon­treal, “well then, old boy, we shall cer­tainly do our best to help bring them over.”)

So why did Bri­tain fall out of love with the Com­mon­wealth (ex­cept for the Queen, who, God bless her, still loves the Com­mon­wealth) and rush into bed with Europe?

Well, I guess we had out­lived our use­ful­ness. Europe made eco­nomic sense. (Or not, de­pend­ing on which side you chose to be­lieve dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum de­bate.) White peo­ple were eas­ier to ab­sorb into Bri­tish so­ci­ety. And, I sus­pect, the UK es­tab­lish­ment could never rec­on­cile it­self to Bri­tain’s post-Em­pire role as just an­other small is­land of no great con­se­quence. Be­ing part of Europe made them feel

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.