Dear Queen Elizabeth II:
Congratulations on your Diamond Jubilee. Yes, supposed “slave labor” may have gone into the making of your royal triumph — and we all hope Prince Philip gets back to his usual self — but after four days of boat-watching, hoola-hooping and epic, coffer-draining pyrotechnics, you must feel quite feted. So, if you don’t mind, permit me to make one post-Diamond Jubilee request: hand over the diamond.
Which diamond, you ask? You know which one. This, the Koh-i-Noor: a famed, glittering stone one era of medieval Indians deemed the “king” of all diamonds and another later hailed the “Mountain of Light,” a Persian phrase that stuck. The first Mughal emperor, Babur, wrote in his memoirs that the diamond “was worth the value of one day’s food for all the people of the world.” Now, it’s in your late mother’s crown, locked away in the Tower of London. As eight-year-old post-colonial waifs, my twin brother and I glared at the guards flanking the crown’s case and asked for it back. They refused to oblige. But you should take heed.
The Koh-i-Noor may have been in your family’s possession for a century and a half, but it is a notoriously slippery gem. Mined at some point in the 12th or 13th century A.D. in southern India, it quickly became a gleaming prize — a totem of power — for a succession of dynasties. Some say it was a curse. You might say that the Koh-i-Noor is the original blood diamond. Hindu potentates saw it fall out of their grasp into the clutches of a series of Muslim sultans; its movement mapped some five hundred years of tumultuous Indian political history.
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan — the one who built the Taj Mahal — had the diamond encrusted into his grand Peacock Throne. For his pains, he got locked up in a tower by his son, and successor, Aurangzeb. The Peacock Throne itself was carried away by Persian invaders in the 18th century, but the diamond wandered back, making its way from discord and regicide in Afghanistan into the hands of the then ruler of Punjab. But — with the British on the scene — he didn’t keep it long. The Koh-i-Noor was handed over to Queen Victoria in 1850 in a ceremonial act of surrender. Two years later, it was cut to a smaller 109 carats to eventually adorn the royal crown. And now it sits in its stony silence in London.
I’m not the only one to ask for it back. The Indian government and media have demanded the return of this prize of your Crown Jewels for quite some time; your Prime Minister David Cameron was once forced to awkwardly defend its existence in Britain on national television in India. I don’t mean to empty out the British Museum in a fit of nationalist zeal — heaven forbid you lose your marbles. But with your empire withered, your monarchy impotent and your nation listing in a European sea roiled by social and financial crises, maybe it’s time to check your hubris and pass on that king of diamonds. I don’t particularly care where it ends up in India — it probably should be affixed to the pommel of Sachin Tendulkar‘s bat — as long as it no longer remains in your possession. Think of how modern and 21st century a gesture it would be: debt-ridden Britain voluntarily returns this gem to the country now buying up its luxury cars and fighter aircraft. Surely you, of all people, can appreciate the value of good symbolic spectacle.