British-Asians pay tribute to “their Queen”
By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY
British-Asian political and business leaders have paid tribute to “their inspirational Queen” for her “selfless service” ahead of her platinum jubilee.
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, told Eastern Eye that he remembered being a child celebrating her majesty’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, and he was “so excited to get a glimpse of the Queen and so proud to be British”.
Senior Conservative peer, Lord Gadhia, said she had “played an exemplary role in uniting diverse communities throughout her remarkable 70-year reign”.
Writing in this week’s paper, the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, praised the Queen’s “special qualities embodied as head of the Commonwealth”.
Lord Bilimoria, founder and chair of Cobra Beer and president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the bosses’ union said, “The Queen is one of the best examples of service leadership.
“It’s a service and duty, and I’ve seen that time after time, and she takes it very seriously.
“She’s very knowledgeable, very sharp, and on the ball every time.
“It’s because of the way in which she has conducted herself through all the ups and downs of the 70 years of her service.
“My late father, General Bilimoria, said the true test of leadership is not in the good times. It’s in times of adversity.
“And the Queen, my gosh, how many times of adversity has she had to cope with in the 70 years, and she has been steadfast.
“Her leadership has been consistent, and that she has been a rock for the country, including the Asian communities.”
Idi Amin’s Christmas card
The honorary consul-general of Uganda and business leader, Jaffer Kapasi, has met the Queen many times since the 1980s.
He represented the business community in the East Midlands and Dawoodi Bohra Muslims.
Like thousands of Asians, Kapasi, his mother, father and eight siblings were expelled from Uganda in 1972.
The country’s dictator, Idi Amin, allowed the family to flee 50-years ago with just £55 in their pocket.
“I’ll give one example of how she actually looks after her subjects,” he said. “We waited to view the archives at the National Archives centre to see what happened when Idi Amin expelled us.
“I was shown this letter where the Queen’s officials advised her not to send a Christmas card to Idi Amin, and this was in 1973.
“In fact, the Queen herself made a written note saying please do send the president a card, because he may decide to deport another group of people from his country.
“So, you can see how well she knew about the expulsion and her commitment to making sure that we (Britain) don’t want to upset any other head of state or any other presidents so that citizens don’t come to harm.
“Look at the role the Queen has played in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
“She’s held the Commonwealth so well and made sure that there was a balance. She has served and represented her country very well.”
Restaurateur, Cyrus Todiwala, is another businessman who has met her majesty more than a dozen time.
Diamond Jubilee lunch
The most memorable occasion was cooking her Diamond Jubilee lunch 10 years ago.
The owner of Café Spice Namasté is replicating that same menu – Indian shepherd’s pie and bread and butter pudding – at his restaurant for the Platinum Jubilee.
“With her majesty you automatically feel a little bit more shy to make conversation, but she puts you at your ease,” he recalled.
“I call it a craft to put you at your ease because it’s something that people are in awe of you all the time.
“For some individuals, they will struggle to chat with you because they are in such awe.
“So, they have a knack of putting you at your ease, and asking you how your day has been, and you automatically relax a bit.”
Indian-Parsis, said Todiwala, regard her majesty as “their Queen”.
“My community has had closer relationships with the crown. She has made that impression on people to be called ‘our Queen’.
“That has to be something that resonates with the fact that the impression she has created, because India is a republic, part of the Commonwealth, but it’s a republic.
“There is no royal head of state or whatever.”
The CBI president and peer, Lord Bilimoria, also an Indian-Parsi, agreed.
“The Parsi community have always been renowned for their love of the royal family.
“The Queen has been, has been a wonderful leader for our whole country and for the Commonwealth.
“She’s passionate about the Commonwealth, and of course, the biggest country in the Commonwealth is India, which makes up over half the population.”
His father was aide de camp, a military officer acting as a confidential assistant to India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad.
The general was responsible for planning the Queen’s visit in 1961.
Bilimoria did not meet the Queen until he came to the UK, but he has known three generations of the British royal family, including the Queen Mother.
“I really have not heard a single person say a bad word about her majesty, there’s complete respect for and complete affection.
“I remember when the president of India came on an official state visit, and I was present at the official state visit.
“You have the address in both Houses of Parliament. You have the Lord Mayor’s banquet.
“And then she hosted the state banquet at Windsor Castle, and I’ll never forget I was asked by the Minister of the household, would I mind keeping her majesty company because the president of India has retired.
“Now there she was, she waited until the president of India retired and she stayed on for another hour after that, meeting all the guests and talking to people and showing interest in everything.
“I mean, remarkable stamina.”
That sense of duty is not lost on another peer.
“The Queen is patron to over 600 charities which provide invaluable support to millions of people in the UK and around the world,” Lord Gadhia told Eastern Eye.
“One such example is the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust which supports a number of different programmes.
“For example, the GirlDreamer programme equips women of colour in the UK with the skills to fulfil their dreams of social change.
“Its recent work has focused on increasing women’s participation in sport.
“Currently only 31 per cent of women in the UK actively participate in sport, and this number falls to 12.5 per cent amongst Asian women.
“This is just one example of her majesty’s contribution to ethnic minorities.
“Her majesty’s 70-year reign has been an inspiring example of devoted service.
“In her recent Commonwealth message, the Queen stated it was her pleasure to renew the promise made in 1947, that her life will always be devoted in service.
“This commitment to a life of service resonates with the Hindu, Sikh and Jain values of Sewa – or selfless service.
“Her Majesty unites multiple diverse communities through her shining example of selfless service.”
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, echoed her majesty’s service to her subjects.
“The Queen has lived a life of extraordinary public service, devoting her time to representing her country and carrying out her duties with amazing grace and humility.
“In the last 70 years, the Queen has led our country through some of the most momentous times in our history.
“From presenting the World Cup to England at Wembley in 1966 and welcoming the Olympics to London in 2012, to witnessing the first colour television broadcast in 1954 and opening the spectacular new Elizabeth line in our capital this month.
“London and the whole country have certainly developed beyond recognition over the last seven decades, but the Queen has been a constant in our lives – a pillar of strength and a reassuring presence in a changing world.
“Her majesty has also been at the forefront of celebrating our country’s great diversity.
“From visiting a mosque in Scunthorpe and Sikh temple in Leicester as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations, to bestowing multiple honours on community heroes from all backgrounds.
“The simple fact is no-one else brings the country together in such a way – and I’m hugely looking forward to seeing Londoners from different backgrounds unite and take to the streets in her honour this week.”
For another member of the House of Lords, the Queen exemplifies the fairness of his adopted home.
“For me, I have been privileged to have served as a member of the royal household, when I was appointed a government whip and minister of the crown in her majesty’s government,” wrote Lord Dolar Popat, the prime minister’s trade envoy to Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, in this newspaper.
“I was the first British-Indian to serve in the role, which entailed representing her majesty and carrying out privileged duties on her behalf.
“Representing the crown is perhaps my greatest privilege in life.
“It reflects that the UK is a great and inclusive country to make a life in.
“The fact that a Ugandan-Asian who came to this country as a refugee can walk the corridors of power in parliament is an example of how much things have changed in the UK with the help and guidance from the Queen.”
The point of the Queen, said the honorary Ugandan consul-general, Jaffer Kapasi, is that she is a force for good.
“My role is to make sure that we trade the United Kingdom, not just in trade, but in education as well.
“If you look at the other aspects, there’s this culture, there’s music that the Queen enjoys.
“She has always made sure that Uganda is also represented in not only the Commonwealth but in all the other aspects of life, and my role has been to actually promote these activities.
“Later this year, we’re having Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“Again, I think she will play a leading role in uniting people.
“We will have athletes uniting people of different colours, different races, different languages, coming to a common platform, representing their own flags in celebration.
“Obviously, it boosts local economy in terms of people coming and spending money in this country.”
But after 70-years of loyal service, thoughts are turning to the Queen’s successor, especially with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in June.
“The Queen will be represented there by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who will eventually succeed her as head of the Commonwealth,” writes the secretary-general, Patricia Scotland.
“But we will undoubtedly feel her active care and presence and continue to benefit from her enduring commitment and wisdom.”
Earlier this month (19 May), the think-tank, British Future, found that young people appeared to be “ambivalent about the monarchy”.
Four in 10 said they wanted to keep it while 37 per cent felt that the end of the Queen’s reign would be the right time for Britain to become a republic.
Some have felt that way because of the recent scandals engulfing the monarchy, such as Prince Andrew’s court case against American Virginia Giuffre.
She said that she was the victim of sex trafficking and abuse at the hands of the late Jeffrey Epstein from the age of 16.
Giuffre said in court papers that part of her abuse involved being lent out to other powerful men – including Prince Andrew.
“Prince Charles will have his job cut out though I personally think he’s the best man for the job,” said restaurateur, Cyrus Todiwala.
“Having met him many, many times, I know how passionate he is about Britain in the first place, and the number of things that he does without people coming to know is unbelievable really.
“The only struggle he will have is acceptance for the time being, until he proves himself.
“He’s got a very tough job to follow.
“He’s involved in so many conservation things if he only was only if he had any political clout, I think you’d be much better off in this country.
“We’re all shouting and screaming about sustainability, and he’s the king of sustainability.”
Lord Bilimoria: A queen full of surprises
The Queen’s never put a foot wrong. For example, this year, I was on the committee of the Royal Windsor Horse Show. As you know, the Queen is absolutely passionate about horses, and she’s very knowledgeable about them, and genuinely loves them. One of the most important events for her was the final night of the show. If you remember, she had not been able to attend the State Opening of Parliament this year, and we were told that she may or may not be able to attend. We then told the advisory committee on the day look, her majesty may be coming, but she may leave early, please don’t stand up. She’d like to slip out without making a fuss. Not only did she come on time, but she also stayed until the performance was over, two and a half hours later, until 1030 in the evening. She enjoyed every minute of it, and then at the end of it, she’s doing a whole lap in a carriage and didn’t leave until just before 11 o’clock at night. She’s just absolutely remarkable.
I remember once that staying over Windsor Castle and after the dinner, she said I have a surprise for all of you. It’s amazing the way the Queen follows all the traditions. All the ladies and she went off after dinner and sat and had coffee together in a drawing room. The men stayed on with the Duke of Edinburgh. Then we all got together again, she said, “I’ve got a surprise for each one of you and the guests. Let me take you to the archives.” We went to the archives, and there was an exhibition from the archives tailor made to each one of us as guests. And in my case, there was a section of the Queen Anne’s dollhouse. There was the cellar, and there were miniature bottles of beer in there and it was Bass beer. And bass, of course, is now Molson Coors. Well, they were my joint venture partners, and this was at the time serendipity, I was forming my joint ventures Molson Coors, it was from the doll’s house. And I used to play polo for Cambridge, and there were Persian paintings of polo. There were extracts from her grandfather’s diary, King George, had written during the war, when he was talking about his views on prohibition. It had counted that they had gone to so much trouble to make it relevant to me, and I’ve never forgotten that. That was 2009. By the end, she accompanied us throughout afternoon and walked us through pointing things out, then in the archives going around with each one of us.
Jaffer Kapasi: Memorable meetings to remember
One of the most memorable meetings was when I met her majesty at the Queen’s Garden Party in the 1990s. She didn’t talk to us quite for quite a while, but when she did, the Queen spoke more to my son and daughter, who were 14 and 16 at time, about their future, what they think they will become, what sort of professions they’ll follow, and what do they think of the country? She actually talked to my son and daughter for quite a while. I was amazed at the questions her majesty was asking them.
Then there was 13th of April 2017. It was her 91st birthday, and they held this on the Royal Maundy, lunch at St. Martin House in Leicester Cathedral. Just before that the Queen had distributed 91 coins to people. There were 91 people at the lunch, no more, no less. It was a rather memorable lunch, because everything was so formal. The Queen spoke to the people on the main table, which was fantastic. I’d met her twice before on other occasions, and she was in a jovial mood and atmosphere was very good. There were a very select group of people, within the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslim communities.
Cyrus Todiwala: A lunch fit for the Queen
I was approached to do the first luncheon for the Diamond Jubilee, the first thought was, it has to be a marriage menu. That means when Britain met India or India met Britain in terms of cuisine. One of the earliest things that were created was a thing called the Country Captain, the Indian version of the shepherd’s pie. Because the British 300 years ago, we’re not good on spicing, unlike today when every Tom Dick and Harry is very much into spice. The whole thing was that I created the pie because Prince Charles started the mutton renaissance movement because farmers who had older sheep were not getting value for money. People who weren’t interested in buying mutton, so they got as low as maybe two pounds per sheep. Prince Charles came to the Royal Academy and said can we do something about it? So, I thought the best thing would be to do mutton on the menu and then to do mutton in this classical way so that we have a milder version of what had been originally created because the Queen cannot eat chilli. She’s okay with other things, but not chilies, so that what we did.
It was a great food, and we made a bread-and-butter pudding for dessert. It has got a bit of marmalade in the middle, and the base is flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg. We serve it with cherries soaked in slow gin. The Queen finished her dish completely, which was a great compliment to us.