Patil platter: palace bites & colonial crumbs

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 23.10.09

London, Oct. 23: All state visits to the UK are important but the Queen is making sure that Pratibha Patil’s next week, when the Indian President will stay as her guest at Windsor Castle, is “very special”.

The Queen, it is understood, is assiduously reading a mountain of briefs on Patil and is “very well informed” about India’s first woman President.

After a ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will escort Patil and her husband, Devisingh Shekhawat, into the White Drawing Room where table after table will display items from the Royal Collection of interest to her Indian visitors.

President Patil will undoubtedly be moved by Gandhi’s wedding gift to Elizabeth and Philip in 1947 — a shawl made with yarn woven by the Mahatma himself and containing the words, “Jai Hind”.

Today, the words would probably be “Jai Ho” as the Britons recognise that India is a global force, economically and politically, and the state visit will reflect the new world order.

The world has indeed changed dramatically in the six decades since Independence and Buckingham Palace officials are determined that the theatre and spectacle during Patil’s state visit from October 27-29 are in tune with India’s critical importance to Britain and vice versa. The two sides want to continue to co-operate in many fields but education is getting priority.

The attention to detail is impressive.

Take, for example, vegetarian food. The Queen is not having Indian chefs flown in from India or hiring them from the best Indian restaurants in London such as the Bombay Brasserie or Vama or Chor Bizarre or Gaylord. Patil, who is vegetarian, will be shown that British cuisine is not as totally tasteless as foreigners say it is.

The Queen sees the banquet she is holding at Windsor Castle to be “an opportunity to showcase the best of British food”, so Patil should not expect dosas or stuffed parathas (she can always send for takeaways as palace staff have been instructed to do everything to “make her feel comfortable”).

The guest list is “very select”, The Telegraph has learnt. There is room for only 100-110 guests. There will be “entertainment”, which will probably be English rather than make a concession to Bollywood as the Queen did at Buckingham Palace last week with a desi dance sequence in the Ball Room.

Dress code for the Windsor banquet is strictly “white tie”. Although curry king Sir Gulam Noon, who is lucky enough to have received an invitation, will find the right clothes, the palace has made it clear that for Indians “white tie” only means formal attire. Indian women — certainly Patil herself — will mostly wear saris while men can don “national attire”.

When the Queen takes Patil round the White Drawing Room, the President will be fascinated by many of the displays. Although Queen Victoria is usually depicted as traditional and unbending, she was radical in many ways. Patil will be shown “Queen Victoria’s Hindustani diary”, as well as a photograph of her Munshi, Abdul Karim, who taught her Urdu.

It will become obvious to Patil that India and Britain go back a long time and that the historical memorabilia is well preserved at Windsor.

For instance, there is the proclamation from January 1, 1877, when Queen Victoria was formally declared Empress of India.

There will be numerous pictures of visits to India by the Queen and Prince Philip, including some from 1961. One shows “HM riding an elephant in Jaipur”.

The palace has put together Patil’s packed programme after consultations with India House and the British foreign office. But there is one request she has made — to see the new Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum.

Since India is involved, Prince Charles is getting in on the act.

In marked contrast, he refused to have anything to do with the Chinese President during his state visit (because of China’s harsh Tibet policy).

After Patil arrives in London on October 26, she will put up for one night at a London hotel. The following morning, Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, will go to the President’s hotel and “personally escort her to Windsor for the ceremonial welcome”.