On Public Service: The fall

When Elizabeth, later to be known as the Virgin Queen, found herself against all odds, monarch of England in 1558 at the age of 25, she was many things, except perhaps a virgin.

An illegitimate child of Henry VIII, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, seen as the trollop of the court after the king divorced and executed her, Elizabeth had neither political interest nor experience and had no idea about what awaited her when she found herself on the throne of England. She certainly did not know she would rule Britannia for 44 years, squash the most powerful force in Europe, the Great Spanish Armada, create a super navy that would travel the world, acquire vast territories, and set her country off onto its empire building ambitions. And yet, it seemed to have been a roll of dice that brought Elizabeth there. Her brother Edward died soon after her father and her elder sister Mary did not fare too long either. So, illegitimate a monarch in more ways than one, unwanted, unloved, her coronation portrait obviously included all the paraphernalia, the crown, the Christian world, the sceptre, the royal robe that would make her acceptable, albeit awkwardly and on the basis of artifice.

Portrait 1
HYPERLINK "http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/112943/queen-elizabeth-i"http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/112943/queen-elizabeth-i

But remarkably smart and resourceful, Elizabeth would learn quickly the mechanisms of statecraft, navigating successfully through treacherous religious and other quagmires, and she would come to master it and fashion it in new directions.

Towards the end of her reign, having stayed ‘faithfully married to her country’, her portrait carries no symbol of power, no sceptre, no royal robe, no crown. Instead, her dress is embroidered with ears and eyes with multiple readings. She is the people’s queen but only if she transcends empty rhetoric for words of depth and truth. She is their queen only if she can transcend the negligent cursory look of a patronising monarch towards her subjects to that of a human being who looks attentively at another human being to whom she has an obligation. The eyes and the ears can also be interpreted as indicating her inclination to see through the eyes of her subjects and to hear through their ears. She thus engages into a different contract with her people than her earlier one. She is very much a queen married to her people, an image reinforced in her Golden Speech, ‘My heart was never set on worldly goods but for my subjects’ good.’

Portrait 2

HYPERLINK "https://www.google.com/search?q=elizabeth+1+rainbow+portrait+symbolism&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG287LzMvUAhUIAcAKHZ8pBN4Q_AUICigB&biw=1280&bih=739"https://www.google.com/search?q=elizabeth+1+rainbow+portrait+symbolism&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG287LzMvUAhUIAcAKHZ8pBN4Q_AUICigB&biw=1280&bih=739#imgrc=Z4UfJ0_4R5BxyM:

Funnily, the Public Relations of Elizabeth 1, going back 5 centuries, have more pertinence today than those of our current leaders. If we felt that our leaders, be it of this or the previous government, lent their ears and their eyes to the needs of the people. If they could see the growing gap between the haves and havenots, the disappearing middle class, the feminisation of poverty, the human trafficking, the child prostitution. If they showed accountability over the accidental fall of those public servants who serve the country honestly and selflessly and demonstrated an obligation to them. I am thinking here, as just one example, of a Second Secretary who fell from the rotting balcony of the Mauritian Embassy which collapsed in Delhi in 2011 from a negligent lack of maintenance by the Government. He fell almost to his death, into a coma with a perforated liver, perforated lungs, multiple fractures to the spine and permanent damage. He will have to undergo many more surgeries in order to continue to exist, surgeries that he cannot afford, all because of the voluntary negligence of the state. And yes, he still serves the country.

If our leaders saw, heard and spoke with authenticity, if they espoused the causes of the people, we might have forgiven the odd craving for a free limousine ride but, for sure, we cannot turn a blind eye to allegations of an association between the highest leadership and blood money.

It is a fall from hubris that we are expecting from our future leaders, words of depth, authenticity and truth, not the silence of the PM over the gross misconduct of elected members of his party, nor his arrogance in dealing with questions that we have every right to ask him. Because in the end, as Tunisian author Fawzi Mellah says so eloquently in Elisa, La Reine Vagabonde, ‘Le vide des greniers l’emportera sur la magnificence des pharaons’.