The unveiling of the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on September 8 on the newly renamed Kartavya Path in New Delhi is meant to be part of the ongoing process of India shedding the last vestiges of colonial mindsets and focusing on duty. It was poignant therefore that the very personification of that word – duty – for another nation, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away peacefully in Balmoral Castle in Scotland the very same day.

Her father George VI was ‘King-Emperor’ when the main avenue of the new capital of India, the jewel in the British Crown, was named Kingsway. He also was on the throne when the same road was renamed Rajpath. But on her very last day as Queen – or as, she memorably called it, ‘in service’ – Rajpath became Kartavya Path, in a serendipitous and entirely unconnected nod to the most defining aspect of her persona.

British TV anchors stuttered over the word ‘was’ as they read out the solemn announcement from Buckingham Palace, as well they might for she was around for as long as most people can remember. And for the first time in 70 years, a British Prime Minister uttered the words ‘God Save the King’ as Liz Truss paid tributes to the late sovereign who performed her last public duty by meeting her 15th new head of government.

Duty is considered a rather old fashioned word now, so renaming the imperious sounding Rajpath as Kartavya Path has been expectedly criticised as unnecessary and even tongue twisting. It is not a word that many Britons have held in high regard or seen as relevant in our “love yourself first” times either. The UK, of course, had a living symbol of that word for 70 years but whether any Britons want to emulate her is moot.

There are some people that we imagine will live forever. Our parents and grandparents, for example. It’s a comforting thought that they are there – symbols of continuity, a reason to mentally ward off the inevitable responsibility of ‘coming of age’ and taking charge. Queen Elizabeth II was that kind of granny for many in Britain, tiny but resolute. So her passing will leave many more bereft than just her immediate family.

And with good reason. The epitome of kartavya, possibly the very last head of Britain – royal or political – who could be described thus, has passed away at a critical juncture. After all, the UK is not only confused about where it is heading, but far smaller in both actual area and stature than when she became monarch and continues to diminish. Worse, most of her family cannot be said to be cut from the same sturdy cloth.

We are often surprised by the resilience of our elders, the way they take adversity and tragedy on the chin, especially when we least expect them to do so. Many also prove to be amazingly adept at adapting to new things. Queen Elizabeth had to do all and more many times, that too in the glare of public scrutiny, which reveals in no small measure the role that duty – to remain constant and yet change – had to play in her life.

Losing her husband and partner of 73 years last year must have been a crushing blow; we see elders in our own families deeply affected by such tragedies. And yet Queen Elizabeth II rallied to come out for her platinum jubilee events, a little more frail, a little more bent, a lot more alone, simply because it was expected of her. As also when she welcomed Liz Truss as PM. It was an extraordinary display of duty over self, till the last.

In the many films, documentaries, books and articles that will inevitably be screened and written about the second Elizabethan Age in the coming days, Britons will be reminded of (or re-acquainted with) the importance of duty and responsibility and its continuing necessity in their lives. And literally placing Kartavya front and centre in New Delhi has come at the just right moment in our lives in India too.



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