Destination UK

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh
The queen expired and Prince Charles was just crowned. I was reading some snippets in the net, somebody drew a parallel between queen Victoria and Elizabeth II, he called both the queens iconic. Yes, both could be iconic, Elizabeth though could not much influence the governance of the country, she was running the royal household with lots of strict dos and don’ts and some revolting in laws found a bit too suffocating to be inside the royal palace. But then outside her forte, her influence was limited, being more symbolic than impactful. Monarchy anyway was just titular anywhere and rather preserved for its unifying effect and cultural value. But, queen Victoria was the queen from 1837 to 1901. After battle of Trafalgar (1805) and Battle of Waterloo (1815), Britain established a firm power hegemony in the whole of Europe and world and she was undoubtedly the most powerful queen of her days. She ruled for 63 years and 7 months, when Britain was undisputed world power with the expansion of empire everywhere, having largest empire in the history, the period of Pax Britanica. It was the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. One could write volumes about the era, industrial, technological, colonial, social, political and what nots. Till date we often refer to Victorian architecture, Victorian fashion, Victorian dresses, Victorian literature so on and so forth. Elizabethan period, the most remarkable about the period is it is the longest period by any monarch in the known history, 70 years and 7 months. Other than that there has not been much iconic about her reign. On her death, the British media and royal authorities tried to up play the hype but were not very successful. When she was crowned in 1952 as the queen of UK, there was a new world order and UK was much pushed down in that. Anyway, the world’s longest reigning queen passed away, the queen is dead, long live the King.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is what we know as UK now. In strange ways, the Ireland and Scotland became a part of UK and Wales was annexed in early medieval period. This was the original UK but the greater part of Ireland parted in 1922 and formed present day Ireland and only northern part remains in the UK (IRA days are over I presume). The King (or Queen) of UK is also the king of some more commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc. (15 in no). That way, the monarchs cannot let them down by their habits and behaviours, so the rules of royal etiquettes must be voluminous (poor lady, Lady Diana). Nothing should go out of royal household unless permitted or selectively leaked; even Scotland Yard is very considerate. The public image of royals is very important. Even in India, where the powers of native princes are long gone, people expect them to behave, a tough order though.
I planned a trip to UK, I wanted to visit my daughter there. I visited her in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and was stuck there for four months without any chance of getting out. For a few days before the pandemic restrictions were clamped down, I could make some trips to Central London, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, London Bridge, Roman Ruins, Thames River, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Greenwich Zero Meridian, Emirates Stadium (Arsenal’s new ground) and some other iconic places. But entry inside was not allowed for visitors in many of them as pandemic restrictions had started and I had to miss the Museum and Archives. No visitor for Westminster Abbey and no visitor allowed for Wimbledon either. Of course this time too, I am planning a very short trip due to my daughter’s exam coming up, but thinking of catching up one or two important places, not more than that. I am having some important assignments at home too.
People asked me about my visit to UK this time now that the pound sterling is taking a dive, Brexit is taking a toll and Ukraine war has disturbed the economy so much. Coupled with that I had lots of problem in applying for visa. I thought that I had good two and half months’ time and it was appropriate time to apply and applied for standard visa by paying around INR 10,000. After arranging all the documents such as financial soundness Proof (Both bank statement and Income tax return document), Homestead ownership Proof (in home country), London accommodation confirmation proof, Employment (or retirement) proof and Educational certificate. Of course Aadhaar (National identity), PAN and Passport are musts. Anyway, not too difficult to arrange, only a little time taking, that’s all. When I wanted to book a slot for visa interview, I could not get any slot during August. For UK visa after all the process, I have to be present in the VFS Global Centre for giving biometrics, booking a slot online is required and our VFS Global Centre, Imphal near 2nd MR Gate is not authorized for biometrics (Some political pressure to GOI and British High Commission may be required). As luck would have it, one day I happened to browse the UK visa website and found that some slots appeared. My daughter warned me that it takes 70 days to clear a visa application for UK. The website also said that due to Ukraine war, the visa slots have been mostly taken by their immigrants and waiting period may be elongated. Then I had no option but change my standard visa application to priority visa by paying INR 24,000 extra and made a trip to Kolkata for the biometrics. Needless to mention here, I had to again to collect the visa after a week from there itself. How much money is being spent for not having the biometrics centre here at VFS Global Imphal Centre (if we have one, it can cater all the NE States). Anyway, next time I apply for visa for UK, I will do at least three months in advance.
Going by Air India is the best, it takes less than nine hours, but then AI flights are limited and hence, the prices are too high, upwards of INR 60,000. Other airlines are offering at much cheaper rates (I think being managed by Tata now, AI can operate more flights and make price more comparable). Once inside the international departure, I just could not believe that so many people are going outside the country and so many to UK. All the flights are going at full capacity. My flight Etihad Airways goes via Abu Dhabi, that was also full (Airbus A-380). Very good aircraft, problem was that lay over time at Abu Dhabi was good seven hours. Nevertheless, there was a good Indian crowd in the airport,I was even asked if I was a Nepali, some Indian techies (girls) kept on working in their laptop in the waiting area of Gate 35 (our departing gate). It was not too crowded like Indian Airports and there was plenty of space commensurate with size of aircraft. I was having only GBP and was worried how to buy food, then I found that they accept INR (I had enough) and after all, it was a good airport (INR will not be accepted in other Airports like Kyiv, Warsaw, Frankfurt etc.). There are many routes, from more than 12 cities in the country to London.
At London LHR airport, there were crowds of Indians, South Indians, Hindi speaking people and all. Even, if half are taken as visitors, other half must be having/coming for jobs, that also in tens of thousands. So, the pasture here must be still really green, albeit a bit disturbed due to Brexit and Ukraine war (with an unrelenting Russia). A passing phase, I suppose it to be. There are many Indians in all the sectors of employment; even a number of people are opening Indian shops here. The UK and India are planning to have free trade which is supposed to boost Indian economy but more importantly to boost sagging economy of UK at the moment. Indian investment is second highest for UK andcurrently the trade volume is 24 billion GBP and under the free trade, it is expected to grow to 57 billion GBP in 15 years’ time. I feel that one should not take Ms Suella Braverman’s remarks too seriously, nor as a public or Government’s opinion (She is the new Home Secretary who replaced Priti Patel). She told that the Indian immigrants have the habit of overstaying visa and UK should not have open border with India. Hers was a timed comment to raise a storm in the leadership tea cup, to undermine the chances of Rishi Sunak in case of exit of Liz Truss (most likely) as the PM, a calculative fuelling of cultural war for her political ambition, at least I feel so.
I came to know that the EMA (European Manipuri Association) is planning a Ningol Chakkouba at London and decided a venue; I think Dr. Bishwajit too is taking interest in the arrangement. The likely number of participants is exceeding the planned number, now they are expecting over 70 (including a few from adjoining countries), so I heard that they are thinking of shifting to another venue. This is actually only a fraction of the diaspora present here. My point is there is good number of Manipuris, doing all sorts of jobs in many fields. Still many are coming and wherever they are, they are doing well with lots of scope. Only problem here is accommodation is a bit costly, food is on the higher side (but okay), commuting need to be well planned otherwise costly, but by European standards, it is not that costly, of course by Indian standards it can be taken as costly. But then, what for they pay you so high?
Not bad, I suppose, destination UK.
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