It is rather difficult to understand the English. On one hand they are dismissive of their own achievements and brag little of their own abilities. On the other hand, they lean too much on their past and needlessly overprotect the relics of history. Perhaps these must be seen as complementary rather than contradictory. Every museum, mansion or palace I visit prohibits photography, thus preventing me from recording the highlights of my visits. Neither the flamboyant Versailles nor the treasure trove that is the Louvre imposes such a restriction on visitors. Perhaps, the reason is more mundane that one would have thought – to help the sale of guide books.
The English are courteous, polite, loving and understanding. That such a nation of people could colonise and bring to subjugation other peoples with the might of smoking guns, warring fleets and unscrupulous tactics is beyond understanding. To plunder foreign lands and build from such spoils the wealth of their own homes is to hide villainy under the glorified cloak of war. War and dominion is perhaps a good thing but only if it to unify peoples for the goodwill and progress of all, where everyone is respected as equals, where prejudices don’t raise their ugly heads. Where war is advanced to make the conqueror richer, the conquered poorer, there is no gain to be had. Such a fallen purpose sucks at the core of man’s divine self to breed the general evils of jealousy, greed, possession and exploitation.
Such thoughts occurred to me on this beautiful day while at Windsor & Eton. The Long Walk in the Windsor Great Park was a walk pleasant and easy, the path dipping and climbing the gentle slopes of undulating terrain. The view of the castle at one end and the equestrian sculpture at the other neatly framed this walk. With a glowing sunset bathing the castle battlements, deer grazing in the neighbouring enclosures and not a sound save the occasional chirps of birds, it was a walk to be remembered. From the vantage of the castle, Eton College rises strikingly in the distance. Perhaps if I were to read now Thomas Gray’s Horatian ode I would appreciate it better.
The castle itself is a fine example of “moat & bailey” style of military defence standing stoically at the top of a hill across centuries of sieges and revolutions. The interiors are magnificent be it the vaulting of the ceilings, the paintings or tapestries lining the walls or the carpets on the floors. My particular choice of appreciation is “Summer” by Paul Rubens. Notwithstanding the rebuilding of many rooms after the fire of 1992, the castle has not lost its appeal and charm so that it continues to attract the crowds.
Also on display are some of the spoils of the Battle of Srirangapatnam of 1799 where Tipu Sultan fell heroically. One visitor commented with pride that if it had remained in India it would be lost by now. That does not justify why it should be here. Would it not be far better had it been lost in some magnificent era of patriotic heroism, to kindle the imagination of historians and lovers of Indian art, than be displayed as an item of conquest in the land of conquerors? I guess it all depends on one’s point of view. A patriot would see it this way. A historian would perhaps be thankful that it is preserved for posterity. In any case, life in India is vividly seen on the streets, not in museums. Museums are secondary. For Indians, the past has not yet become a concern of the present. If truth be told, very few care about the past in India.
St George’s Chapel is a work of art both in style and execution. It is most admired for its stained-glass windows on the west front decked with fine images of kings, princes, saints and popes, 75 of them in all. In this chapel is the origin of the English identity. The Notable Order of the Garter has its seat and ceremony here. The flags and insignias of past and current members of this order are displayed. St George’s Day takes its origin here. Yet another interesting item in the choir is the Picquigny Misericord that commemorates the events leading to the Treaty of Picquigny of 1475 that brought temporary peace between the English and the French.
The Albert Memorial Chapel is unique in its creative use of multi-coloured stones.
My only regret is that I missed evensong at the St George’s Chapel. The Long Walk took longer than expected.