Sarita Sarvate

THE LAST WORD

Di and I

INDIA CURRENTS, OCTOBER 1997

“The royal family’s marital failures, their sordid affairs, their tragedies, have let us all off the hook, I suppose, because if Charlie and Di — with all of their breeding and fortune and the adulation of the masses — could not make it, what chance do the rest of us have?”

By Sarita Sarate

Di and I, so apart and yet so near; so different and yet so similar; born in so very different countries, one the ruler, the other the ruled; born under such different circumstances, too — she a blue-blooded aristocrat, me a lower middle-class nobody. Yet, for the last decade or so, I have felt this affinity with Di.

It all started, of course, with the wedding of the century. We all watched it; those who believed in the monarchy and those who didn’t. It was irresistible. The trial of the century hadn’t come about yet; it was an innocent era in which weddings attracted world media.

At the crack of dawn, I woke up in my apartment in Berkeley to watch Di slip up and say, “Philip Charles Arthur George,” on my little black and white television set. I envied her silk gown, her glass carriage. What woman didn’t? But like Di, I was on top of the world that July morning in 1981. Like Di, I was in love with an Englishman, an aloof, reserved Englishman to boot.

Dressed in my navy blue suit and silk blouse, I went to my corporate job in the financial district of San Francisco that morning and came back home in the evening to watch the sun setting behind the Golden Gate from my penthouse apartment. Like Di, the world was at my feet. Like Di. I didn’t know any better.

Like Di. I had been a product of a dysfunctional family. Like her mother, my mother had been largely absent during my childhood, not physically absent, but mentally and emotionally absent.

Only a year before, I had divorced the husband I had been pressured to marry in India in an arranged marriage and whom I had escaped by coming to graduate school in Berkeley.

I had met my Englishman almost immediately afterwards, in Hawaii, where we had both been visiting researchers. We had had a whirlwind romance, and as I was watching the royal wedding on television, he was crossing the seven seas to meet me in Berkeley, after traveling from New Zealand, where he was then living, to South Africa, on a business visit. I still have the pair of souvenir bone china cups with pictures of Charlie and Di he had picked up on his way in London, as a joke; he knew how much I hated the very idea of a modern monarchy. I suppose some day they ought to fetch a handsome price. Like Di, I believed in fairy-tale princesses then. Like Di, I thought I was going to live happily ever after.

After I followed my Englishman to live in New Zealand, there was this moment of intense jealousy I felt as I watched Di on television playing with her young son on the lawn of the Government House in Auckland. After all, she had a baby and I wasn’t even married. Yet, when she rode her Rolls Royce beside Charlie on a suburban Auckland street, I couldn’t help walking the one block from my house to see her, sans the paparazzi.

Like Di, my Englishman had in his life, another woman, his ex-wife, the mother of his two daughters. Like Di, I didn’t quite know then just how these past lives would interact with mine. Like Di, I was naive. Like Di, I married my Englishman and became the mother of two wonderful sons.

When, in the early nineties, Di began to talk about the pressures in her marriage, her problems with self-esteem, isolation, and unhappiness, I understood. The royal family’s marital failures, their sordid affairs, their tragedies, have let us all off the hook, I suppose, because if Charlie and Di — with all of their breeding and fortune and the adulation of the masses — couldn’t make it, what chance do the rest of us have?

So when Di gave that interview to the BBC dressed in a stunning black dress, I watched enraptured from the brink of my failing marriage.

When, like Di, I got separated. I understood her need to find passion in her work, her fierce protectiveness towards her children, her inability to forget the last 15 years.

Di has had such universal appeal because she is the symbol of modern womanhood, so equal and yet so unequal in this still very male world. As Di publicly disclosed her marital problems, her need to find worthy causes, her longing for true love, we understood, because we had all been there.

Di taught me that there are no fairy-tale romances, that marriage takes a lot of work. Di taught me that even princesses don’t live happily ever after. And for that, I am grateful to her. So long, Di!