THE GATEWAY OF INDIA was built for one of Prince William’s forefathers to step onto Indian soil as its owner. Last Sunday, opposite the Gateway, at the Taj Palace Hotel, when all the blue bloods of Mumbai, from Sachin Tendulkar to Shah Rukh Khan, waited for William and his wife Kate Middleton to arrive for a fundraiser sit- down dinner, there was just a hint of life as it must have been once upon a time in India. The rich and famous were on time, an extraordinary phenomenon with Bollywood superstars, lined and seated to receive a 30-second acknowledgement through the kind beatific eyes of royalty.
Before the event, William and Kate met the 93-year-old owner of a café called Britannia in south Mumbai. It is a rather unremarkable little eatery with decent overpriced food and not much to back it up except memory. But it thrives on a reputation for being iconic. That also goes for members of the British royal family who mostly spend their time maintaining public appearances.
They also get involved in causes and charities but the full-time job is to be rulers only in title and that can be somewhat dull for their subjects. It is why they become most interesting the farther they stray from the mean. The Times of India turning tabloid for a day on William and Kate is in keeping with this. When it ran its front-page image of Kate’s dress billowing in the wind as she laid a wreath at a soldiers’ memorial with ‘Kate’s Marilyn Moment At India Gate’ as its headline, the newspaper just followed a practice established by UK tabloids for British royals.
What must it be to be Will and Kate? Nothing to complain about by the yardsticks of regular folks— a happy family with children, a life in which the demands placed on you can’t affect your standard of living no matter what, needs and luxuries taken care of, and gallivanting across the world to interact with celebrities and slumdwellers. Yet, their private lives have been normal: meeting in college, getting into a relationship, breaking up, and then, older and wiser, coming back together to marry.
The biggest demand is the lack of privacy that such a life affords. Politicians and film stars experience it too, but then they choose their profession and relish it. Not so with those born to it. William’s parents, Charles and Diana, led deeply unhappy lives culminating in the tragedy of her accident. When William and Kate went to Kaziranga, a Daily Mirror report had this headline: ‘Protective Kate Middleton squeezes Prince William’s thigh and says “we’re all safe” as they head off on safari’. It must take some practice to suffer such scrutiny.