Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 20, 2007)
The wink is a metaphor for the changing world order, where royalty is no longer so sacrosanct, nor human errors so unforgivable!
The world smiled indulgently when the American Prez fumbled, then winked at Queen Elizabeth during her state visit to the US. The Queen, instead of taking umbrage, actually seemed amused. Dubya’s faux pas, engineered or genuine, seemed to go down well with all, earning at best a chuckle and at worst a tut-tut.
What helped perhaps was that probably everyone, including the Queen, expected the President to slip up some time or other. Though perhaps not so early as within15 minutes of greeting her!
Even as Yank bluster fumbled in the face of Brit ceremony, it was clear that the world at large seems far more accepting of George Bush’s gaffes than his own countrymen. In fact his perpetual cowboy boot-in-mouth serves to make the world’s most powerful man seem more human. Of course what helped further was that the Queen sportingly took the slip in protocol in her royal stride. Even better, she chose to partake in it by poking gentle fun at Bush’s expense just before returning to England!
Reportedly at a ceremony, “grinning widely,” she raised a toast to her country’s friendship with US, obliquely referring to Dubya’s gaffe with a witty, “"I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, 'When I was here in 1776..."' amid laughter.
The incident possibly took the Queen back to her last visit to White House in 1991 when George Bush senior was President. George junior had then introduced himself to the Queen as the "black sheep of the family", asking her who was the black sheep of the Windsor family, much to the horror of his mother, Barbara Bush.
One wonders if it is the famed stiff British upper lip that brings out the worst in etiquette from Bush, known for his Texan drawl, fumbling ways and informal manner. After all, he also once greeted Prime Minister Tony Blair with: "Yo, Blair. How are you doing?"
Be that as it may, but certainly the Presidential wink is far more than what it has been made out to be. It is difficult to believe that even Bungling Bush could have winked at the Queen without meaning to. The wink is a metaphor for the changing world order, where royalty is no longer so sacrosanct, nor human errors so unforgivable! A world where a bow is replaced by a wink; affectation by affection. A world where the monarch is forced to not just graciously accept breaks in protocol, but to loosen the stiff upper lip enough to grin back widely. A world whose foundations were laid by the likes of late Princess Diana, whose slip from protocol was constantly frowned upon by Buckingham Palace. Certainly a world where ceremony and protocol take a backseat to just doing it!
And if that is so, are we saying Dubya just stumbled upon that carefully executed wink? One wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t built into the script carefully prepared for President Bush by some of the world’s most clever men in a country that prides itself on changing the destiny of nations.
Even as the memory of that cheeky, conspiratorial wink is likely to cause keepers of royal protocol many a sleepless night, the Queen all of a sudden seems more human and approachable. One wink has served to transform her from a frigid, distant monarch to a warm, vulnerable, dignified woman capable of a dry turn of wit and of holding her own when put in a spot!
It is true that possibly nobody less than the world’s most powerful man would have got away winking at monarchy, but it is also true that it would take none less powerful than him to attempt a wink that clearly symbolizes a dramatic shift in power equations!