I am English born, of Irish descent. I am familiar with English/Irish tensions. Brought up on songs and stories, heroes of renown, Brian Boru and Cromwell and the rest. In 1982 I went to Rome to live in the Redemptorist mother house and to study there for two years. There were about seventy men living in that community. It was a truly international community and living there with them I became comfortable with other nationalities and cultures.
I remember, in particular, three Indian confreres, Michael Naikamparampil, Clement Campos and Frank De Souza, lovely men all of them. Very gentle men, very easy going. Frank and I used to have fun joking about the Indian way with the English language, and the funny words. One day Frank had an important meeting to attend. Afterwards, at lunch I asked him, ‘Frank, was the meeting a kerfuffle?’ ‘No,’ Frank replied. ‘It was more of a shemozzle.’
I remember those men today as here in the UK we have our very first Indian prime minister. Rishi Sunak is English born of Indian family. How the tables have turned. In the 1930s my father, newly recruited into the British Army, was sent out to India and he spent three very happy years there, when India was part of the British Empire. In the film, Gandhi, a British officer has difficulty understanding Mister Gandhi’s request for independence because, ‘well, India is British!’
Recently, the Tory party membership chose to elect a white, English lady, Liz Truss, a politician of little experience rather than the brown Indian, Rishi Sunak, a very capable economist. Was it because Liz Truss promised a better way or was it because the English Tory membership is not ready to be governed by an Indian?
We are all potentially racist in our instincts unless and until we have some experience of living together with other racial groups and getting to know one another. Though the UK is becoming more and more demographically mixed, we still live apart in many ways, and the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant is still alive and well.
I do not support the Tories but today is a landmark day in the story of Britain and of England. I hope it proves neither a kerfuffle nor a shemozzle.
24 October 2022