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Kolkata remembers Queen Elizabeth for her grace and dignity

I don’t think we will ever have another quite like her, says a retired school teacher, remembering the late Queen’s portrait in the classroom from her own school days

September 09, 2022 06:11 pm | Updated 06:13 pm IST - Kolkata

Queen Elizabeth II being greeted by the father of Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank, during her visit to Kolkata in 1961.

Queen Elizabeth II being greeted by the father of Kaushik Basu, former chief economist of the World Bank, during her visit to Kolkata in 1961. | Photo Credit: PTI

The city that served as the capital of British India for the longest time is remembering Queen Elizabeth mostly for her grace, even though social media posts emerging from here are debating whether to mourn the monarch of a country that once ruled India.

Different people have different opinions and different memories related to the late Queen, with some seeing her as the face of India’s colonisation and others saying that Indians should first give up their fascination for the concept of monarchy and for the English language before being critical of her. Tanuja Sardar, who works as a cook in a south Kolkata household, was of the opinion that kings and queens belonged to storybooks and that countries should instead have a “Chief Minister, like Mamata Banerjee”.

Also read: Obituary | Queen Elizabeth II, queen of the world

Writer Amar Mitra, in the news recently for winning the prestigious O. Henry Award, was about 10 years old when Queen Elizabeth visited Kolkata, then Calcutta, in 1961. “I was a part of the crowd that flanked the road out of the airport. The Queen was driven into the city in a convertible. I am unable to recall whether Jawaharlal Nehru was accompanying her, but there are three things I still remember very clearly from that morning — her tiara, her gloves, and her smile. Yes, I remember one more thing: an elderly man pointing at the tiara and screaming, ‘There goes our Kohinoor (diamond)!’” recalled Mr. Mitra.

Also in 1961, to celebrate her visit, the British Council gifted every English medium convent school two portraits, one of Queen Elizabeth and the other of her Royal consort. These schools included Mount Carmel in Hazaribagh, where Sudeshna Chakraborti, a retired teacher now settled in Kolkata, studied back then.

“The Queen, looking young and vibrant, wearing an off-shoulder dress and a stunning diamond necklace, epitomised grace and dignity to a 10-year-old. Her portrait was installed in our classroom. I was in Class 5. It must still be there. I retain the same opinion of her even today,” said Ms. Chakraborti.

“It is said that she would open presents carefully so that the wrapping papers could be used again. If one was a bit crumpled, she would iron it! This habit made her seem very human to me, a woman who valued the small things in life just as I did. A woman who suffered, a lady who wanted her progeny to lead honourable public lives, faced many challenges in her personal life. But she never let her guard down. She was a source of strength and support to the many who admired her. I don’t think we will ever have another quite like her,” Ms. Chakraborti added.

Also read: Queen Elizabeth II cherished ‘warmth and hospitality’ of India visits

Writer Rajeshwari Mitra, a descendant of Raja Nabakrishna Deb, whose loyalty to the British contributed to their victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, said that she was far from in awe of the royalty but was impressed by the manner in which Queen Elizabeth conducted herself.

“While surfing the net, I occasionally saw her in colourful attire and I thought that age should not restrict someone from wearing certain colours. She carried herself so well throughout. That was very inspiring. Serving as a monarch for 70 years is indeed extraordinary. One has to be strong both mentally and physically to perform all the duties, look good, and maintain all the protocols,” Ms. Mitra said.

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