Why Our Reaction to Prince Harry’s Memoir May Reveal How We Actually Feel About Our Own Families

Royal Families

You may have been busy the last four years, but then again, maybe the global pandemic slowed things down enough to allow you to pick up a few tidbits of celebrity news. Either way, chances are high that the couple, Harry and Meghan, have made it into your news feed. He, a son of the now King Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The world’s younger brother, fun-loving, and red-haired, one who broke the stiff upper lip of the royal mold even as a child, sticking his tongue out at the press. She, a biracial, divorced actress, of divorced parents, in whom he finally met someone willing, and perhaps able, to deal with the behemoth that is the British (and global) press.

Of course, from the outset, there was speculation about Meghan, her intent in the relationship, bets on how long it would last (ongoing), and how the other members felt about her joining the Windsor clan.

via moha_doha

Four years later, they are telling their own stories, in their own words, without the rules and regulations that traditionally govern palace life, having stepped back as ‘working’ members of the royal family.

For me, as a writer, the British royal family, has always held some allure, perhaps because of how much their history is intertwined with European history – a subject I loved as far back as high school. From Elizabeth I to Victoria, and beyond, for better or worse, the British royals have helped shape the course of modern society through their vast empire.

I got further mixed up in it all when I specialized in postcolonial studies for my Ph.D. as a child of Indian expats. The last British Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten (Harry’s great uncle), royally f@cked up the Partition of India (and that’s putting it very mildly).

All this to say, when Lady Diana Spencer entered the scene, I, like much of the world, perked up. I remember watching her wedding with my parents as a young girl and thinking she could do anything she wanted. She seemed so beautiful, so powerful, so full of attention. Later, in college, a friend woke me up with the news of her fatal accident, and I was somewhat bemused. Diana – dead? In her 30s… it seemed so strange.

“There wouldn’t be this much hype about Mother Teresa passing,” I said when the global grief continued. When the (in)famous nun did pass away a few days later, the sadness compounded.

Because Harry’s mother broke the royal mold in many ways; she exuded warmth, crouched when speaking to children, touched the sick and dying, didn’t tolerate her husband’s affairs, and had many of her own. She spoke about her pain publicly, and she turned her back on royal life. When she was struck down in the back of that car, she was trying to figure out what was next. She needed money to keep up that glamorous, high-maintenance lifestyle, and Dodi, she was known to say, “had all the toys.” Plus, the Fayeds knew her worth – something she craved but never got from The Firm.

Anyway – as a writer, I spent a decade writing a novel every November. 1600 words a day, thanks to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This is how I came to write nine novels back to back. You spend a month creating a manuscript and then seven months editing it.

When I came to the end of the planned projects about life in the Middle East, there was one more story I wanted to tell. About a fractious family who all agreed on the importance of duty — and a prince who wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be one.

Writing About Families

But when I started writing The Princely Papers, it wasn’t just his story that was interesting. It was his mother’s. So the back and forth, from mother to son, created in alternating chapters. At the time, the real-life couple was just dating, and there was much speculation about where the relationship would go.

But a big question throughout my fictional story was: would Albie make a break for it? Because the material was there, even back then, for how someone who experienced the media’s pain and scrutiny, firsthand, via their mother’s misery, would react when he himself became a husband and father.

In 2018, we got a real-life hint: Harry released his own statement about the media’s hounding of Meghan, describing her as being straight out of Compton, despite having grown up in LA. With the palace’s habitual silence around girlfriends, his naming and shaming of the British press hounding the new girl’s friends, family, and colleagues. Here was the first sign this was a prince who was not going to play by the book.

The Trouble With Families

And that’s how we got to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a Netflix docuseries, and now Spare, a tell-all memoir. People speculate it’s Meghan pulling the strings, but the signs have always been there that Harry has wanted to talk all along.

The story is so familiar, it can take on any ethnicity or nationality; women come into families that think they’re too good for her. She is the one who has to bend. If she doesn’t, there are consequences. (Usually for her.) Usually, the husband lets her down.

That’s what makes Wallace Simpson, Diana Spencer, and Meghan Markle, both relatable and fascinating. They won’t fall in step like Kate Middleton; they can’t stop being themselves.

Lucky for Meghan, her husband can’t either.

Because Harry isn’t just breaking royal taboos, he’s ‘airing dirty laundry’ and talking about his family in public – areas off limits to Southerns and South Asians alike.


Connect with Mohana on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about her work here.

To learn more about life in the Arabian Gulf, check out the Crimes In Arabia series!

No, Latin America, South Asian Fans Don’t Need to Be Paid

The group stages of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar are now over. (If, like me, you had only the vaguest notion of what that means, 32 teams from around the world played each other in randomly assigned groups). Of all the parts of the World Cup, this might be the most manic, most crowded, and most global part of the entire process of declaring a world champion in football.

Fans from all over the world converge to support their teams. The best from 3 matches moves onto the ‘sweet sixteen’ part of the tournament.

We’ll leave the discussions about what it’s called (and why American football isn’t actually called hand/egg…) for another time. Since it’s the world’s game, football will do for now.

The Great Fan Debate

Beyond sports, there’s been much debate around human rights, alcohol sales, and now we’ll look at fans. Because, as with everything else related to life in the cosmopolitan capital of Doha, it’s layered. First of all, we must grapple with the fact that of the nearly 3 million people who live in the country, around 250,00 – 350,000 are Qatari citizens.

You can only be a Qatari citizen if your father is one (most countries in the Middle East and Asia are patrilineal). The rest are ‘guest workers’ or citizens of the world, some on short-term assignments – oil industry engineers, lawyers, execs – and others make their home here – professors, teachers, small business owners. Everyone contributes to fueling the economy.

Since the ’60s, and the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia, the Indian subcontinent has been a major sending country for labor in the development of the infrastructure in the Gulf. From building malls to homes, to setting up the banking system and beyond, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, and others have been setting up shop in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Bahrain, and, Qatar.

As part of the legacy of the British Empire, when Qatar was a protectorate, the Indian rupee was the official currency for the Arabian Peninsula.

What I’m trying to say, is that the socio-cultural-economic links between South Asia and the Gulf – particularly Qatar and Dubai – are strong. And demographically, South Asians as a block, plus males specifically, make up a big portion of Qatar’s population.

So, in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup, with tests of Fan Zones, and public gatherings of fans, guess who showed in the majority? You said brown men because you read down this far, and you’re right.

The reaction to brown men in the yellow and green jerseys of Brazil or the blue and white of Argentina was one of disbelief. Was Qatar trying to get the world to believe the World Cup would be fun with these paid fans? Clearly, these men had been paid to celebrate the coming games because, well, everything with these games was slated to be a disaster.

Accusations of Qatar paying international fans to promote positive takes on the World Cup swirled before the start of the games, but, again, was it semantics? Because aren’t top influencers paid by brands to do their thing? (Just in case you’re wondering, full disclosure, I get nothing from anyone to write about these topics; all views are my own as someone who lives here on the ground).

(Post from my Instagram in response to accusations of the brown fans being paid)

Right away, Indians and Pakistanis, within and outside the Middle East, came right back at the racist undertones in this rhetoric.

Are brown England fans not as authentic as English (aka white) ones?

Uri Levy

Because, while the fans of global football mega brands like Brazil, didn’t understand how brown fans 14,000 km away could connect with them, Pakistani passion for Pelé is crystal clear. For example, the Lyrai in Pakistan actually see themselves, their hair, skin, and facial features, in Brazilians — but not in their own nation.

Bilal Hassan

South America, like much of the formerly colonized world, suffers from colorism. Lighter, is always better, because to be dark, is to have connections to African, indigenous, or native roots – not the Caucasian overlord ancestry.

I personally experience the mix that is Latin American society, any time I’m walking around in the Spanish-speaking world, from Barcelona to San Jose. As a person of Indian origin, people come up to me and speak in Spanish. When I respond with my strong non-native accent, they are surprised (but happy I’m making the effort).

In South Africa, doing some touristy things, my Uruguayan friend and I posted photos and tagged each other. Immediately, the comments from her family came in – “Who is this woman, and how is she related to us?”

Until that moment, neither of us had seen the similarities in our features.

“I thought Uruguayans were white,” I said. (We are ever learning).

“Most of them are,” her Swedish husband explained to me. (I told you it’s a global place!) “And twenty percent of them look like you and Silvia.”

(Me and my Uruguayan sister at one of my book releases)

This funny anecdote echoed back the last two weeks. “I heard them saying it, look at these paid brown men, at the game,” she said to me at a barbecue. “The guys are having the best time, and this is their Cup.”

For this is one of the unexpected bonuses from this tournament being held in the Middle East. South Asian fans can hop on a 4-hour flight to come see in person what they had only experienced on their TVs.

What do Indians know about football?

Everything. I’m staggered by the stats, the stories, and the memories my South Asian fans have about this gathering that I’m just learning about.

(South Asian men on Doha’s Corniche celebrating Brazil’s national team)

But, as Qatar resident, Najla Nabil explains, Argentina has been her home team since she was five years old. She is ‘from’ Pakistan.

(Najla Nabil, a die-hard fan of the Argentine national team)

It’s cheesy and overused and not always true – I wouldn’t be a believer if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. But football can bring people together.

That is, if we can open our eyes to who/what makes a fan.


Connect with Mohana on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about her work here.

To learn more about life in the Arabian Gulf, check out the Crimes In Arabia series!

Here’s Why Qatar Moved the World’s Beer at the World Cup

The group stages of the World Cup started in the kidney-shaped emirate of Qatar, located on the tip of the Arabian peninsula. Situated above Saudi, it is the first Arab and Muslim nation to host these games that inspire unique national fervor. There were many questions when they won their audacious bid back in 2010.

How would the tiny, conservative country, which prefers for people not to wear shorts in the malls, host the world with all her many citizens, customs, and behaviors?

Yesterday, Saturday, November 27th, marked the end of the first week, and the answer, we who are here and experiencing it live, can say, with great humor, hospitality, and enjoyment. Fans are having a great time trying out the traditional male Gulf headdress, known as the gutra, with the coiled black a’agal, made in the color combination of the 32 countries, which has turned out to be perhaps one of the best marketing/commercial choices of merchandise in the history of merch-ing.

Men from all nationalities are getting help from Qatari police officers, security guards, and onlookers with how to put it on. You can’t really be mad at someone who is trying to learn your culture; you give a bit of trust to the person close enough to touch your head.

Where connections haven’t gone as smoothly, however, is the subject of alcohol. Football (soccer if you’re from certain places) is synonymous with drinking. A pint, or two, in a bar, while the game is on – all of this is at odds with the collective impressions about life in Islamic countries.

There Are Bars in Qatar

But, yes, there are bars in Qatar – (and the rest of the Middle East) with much higher prices for drinks than in other places because the only outlets allowed to sell alcohol are usually in four-star hotels (or higher).

Yes, people do drink in Qatar, and other parts of the Middle East, both Muslim and non, in public and at home.

You need a license to buy it from the one authorized distributor, known as QDC. Muslims are not allowed to have such licenses, and yes, it does ask for your religion on the application. Plus, your employer must provide a letter so that your total allotment does not 10% of your annual salary because lonely expats do turn to self-medication.

Yes, there is a rehab center, again for expats and locals alike, because, as we know, addiction knows no nationality or faith.

The bar area in a restaurant at the Sheraton hotel in Doha, Qatar by Hani Arif

So if the residents of Qatar have controlled access to alcohol, then why all the fuss about beers without balls?

If you’ve been reading around here for a while, you know I’ll say, the answer is complicated because Islamic identity in the Arabian Gulf has a different permutation than elsewhere in the Muslim world. Some identify this as Wahabism (a whole book in itself). Others describe the unique combination of wealth, small homogenous populations, and geographic isolation as a particular mix, different to say, Lebanon with Christians and Muslims, or Iraq with various ethnicities.

Take all of that and add the fact that alcohol is synonymous with westerners, and any concessions to it are tantamount to comprising one’s morals, for conservative Muslims, and you have the grumbling that began back in 2010.

Qatar is a case study of how leaders, with a vision, are working with a citizenry that might not have bought entirely in. The carefully curated process of modernization has been stepped forward that is sometimes met with resistance based on people’s values (sound like anywhere else we know?).

Alcohol is not the only challenge to a perception of self or nationhood – art as well, what is depicted, and what is permissible, has also been the subject of public scrutiny. Sculptures, especially of humans, for example, are not permitted in Islam, because they can tip one over into idolatry.

So the sale of alcohol in the country due to the World Cup caused several strands of conversations, both within and without Qatar.

The Beef about Beer at the World Cup in Qatar

Fans at the 900 Park, one of the specially created fan zones, selling alcohol during the World Cup

First, the officials said beverages would be available in fan zones made for footballing culture (aka beverage and big screen) near the stadia. A multi-million dollar contract with Budweiser later, and it looked like all would be well. A measure of progress in the way labor reforms have come developed over the twelve years of preparation as the stadia were being built.

Then, as the date came closer, in September 2022, it seemed the possibility of a drink would be even closer – on the premises of the stadia itself.

But, in an inexplicable twist, days before the opening, there was an about-face, first noticed by reporters who saw the Budweiser branding being moved off the stadia grounds, later confirmed by the declaration from the organizing committee that alcohol would only be in specific, authorized ‘fan zones’ with screens, games, and entertainment.

A Tweet by Budweiser (that has since been deleted) when the change in arrangements was announced.

What is puzzling to anyone who knows anything about football (or communication strategy) is that alcohol during games in stadia is, in fact, not offered worldwide. In fact, the ban against sales in Europe was only lifted in 2018; in England, you still can’t drink in your seats. At LaLiga stadia, in Spain, for another example, there is no sale of alcohol, only in nearby bars.

So what is all the fuss about? In not offering alcohol in the stadia, or even on the grounds, Qatar is actually in keeping with sound football hosting.

Well, changing the plan a few days before people who have spent hundreds to thousands of dollars land, is not a great look.

Beyond that, however, is the power dynamic between FIFA, one of the world’s largest so-called non-profits, and Qatar, a country that is continually expanding its soft power network with sports hosting as a key part of its strategy.

And also the space in which we understand what it means to live or visit an Islamic society as a non-Muslim.

Because, as I had to explain to many, many friends at home, the headlines are deceiving when they say there is no beer being sold at the World Cup.

One of the bars at a fan zone in Qatar

Perhaps this is another example of losing nuance when the conversation goes wider; there is beer in the fan zones, there is beer in licensed bars and restaurants, and there is beer here, there, and everywhere but on the grounds of stadia.

Despite how the decision was delivered, there are some interesting positive developments to maintaining the limit of alcohol:

… the medics operating the ‘drunk tank’ from Hamad hospital (hello, free health care) find themselves with much more free time than those working in other World Cups.

… many have pointed out that having lots of beer can make you miss the game because you’ll be constantly running to the bathroom.

… as people worldwide have commented on social media fora, if you can’t skip a few beers now and then, perhaps there’s a larger force at work.

And I am absolutely no expert on this, but apparently beer isn’t the alcoholic beverage of choice for most consumers….


Connect with Mohana on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about her work here.

To learn more about what life is like in the Arabian Gulf, check out the Crimes In Arabia series!