As a seven-year old girl growing up in Bombay in 1952, my mother first heard about Queen Elizabeth when her aunt took her to see the movie ‘A Queen is Crowned’ in a cinema hall. She knew it was a place where everything became dark and people came to life on a big screen. But what she didn’t know was that a real young lady would be crowned and come to life as the queen of England. And that visual of seeing a beautiful princess wearing a crown, holding a scepter, with her husband kneeling before her, with people chanting “God Save the Queen!” around her, all in multi-color, mesmerized my mother beyond anything she had ever seen before, because until then, the picture of such a queen was only known to her in a fairytale book. And Queen Elizabeth the second, the real queen, had got herself a very young admirer who was going to love her for life by the time the film got over.
In 1955 my grandfather was posted to Calcutta but he had to cut the posting short due to an unexpected news. My mother was playing on the terrace and she was called indoors. Her parents asked her to sit and shared the news with her. They told her that they were all going to be living in London for a long time. They showed her where England was located on the map, and where London was located in England. But all my mother was interested in was where the queen was located.
In London they had a nice television. And it would be in their cozy home on Christchurch avenue that my mother would first get to watch Queen Elizabeth ride in her golden carriage for the opening of the Parliament. She would also listen to her Christmas and Common Wealth addresses on the radio. “Whenever you get a chance, go see the Queen!” Mrs. Benjamin had told my mother before she left Calcutta. So in the very next year, my mother figured out a way to miss school for that one day when she could stand outside the Buckingham Palace Gate and see the same sight she had watched on the television, in person. At home, Queen Elizabeth was always referred to as ‘her darling queen’.
What had simply happened over the years was that my mother had found someone she could truly admire and learn from as young girl. She was not consumed by ‘a’ queen like one is by a rock-star at that age. But something about this Queen had made a deep impact on her mind. The Queen was her idol- a strong, dignified, well-dressed, and well-behaved woman. She watched how a queen could also be a good wife and a good mother. She saw news snippets of her playing with Prince Charles or cutting Prince Andrew’s first birthday cake in India. My mother imbibed good human values such as those of love and of courage in spite the wide chasm that separated their lives. She knew the queen’s entire life inside out and all the challenges she had been through and how she carried herself through it all. It was a healthy admiration and great love for a young woman who wore a crown in real life and never abused it.
Then one day, when she was riding in a big London cab with her parents, a small car pulled-up beside her big window when the light turned red. A woman with a tightly secured scarf around her head was driving it. Of course, it took my mother less than a second to recognize the Queen of England, but the odds of it made the driver and her parents ignore her excitement. However, the young queen did turn and smile at her before she drove off, leaving the adults absolutely stunned. The driver said that in all his decades of driving on the streets of London he had never experienced something like this. My grandparents asked my mother if she had had her fill of seeing her darling queen, and my mother replied “Not until I offer her a curtsey”.
One summer morning, years after the special traffic-light encounter, an envelope came home. It was carrying an invitation for my Grandparents to attend the Common Wealth Garden Tea Party on the lawns of Buckingham Palace. The Queen always attended this event and addressed the Common Wealth citizens. My mother obviously wanted to attend it too but she was a year under-age. So my grandfather wrote a letter requesting the authorities to make an exception. Of course, they granted it without a fuss. My mother was so excited that my grandmother had to stitch her a special dress with lace so that she could practice her curtsey in it. And finally in 1962, my mother drove through the gates of Buckingham palace, saw her darling queen and even got to offer her a splendid curtsey.
Today, when I watch the episodes of The Crown, I understand why my mother loved the queen so much, and why she still continues to do so. I texted her a message a short while ago while writing this, asking her if she remembered the color of the car the queen was driving. She texted me back saying “Who cares to notice anything else when the queen is smiling at you!!”