Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queens Closest Confidant by Shrabani BasuThe tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victorias Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queens teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.
Victoria and Abdul: The Real Story Behind the Queen's Most Unlikely Friendship
She led a grand procession to Westminster Abbey in open carriage, escorted by the Indian cavalry, greeted screaming crowds on her palace balcony, and enjoyed fireworks in the garden. Queen Victoria in turn showered him with gifts, titles and honors, much to the resentment of the royal family. When the queen died in , her children burned every letter she sent Karim, whom they unceremoniously deported back to India. Yet his record lives on, thanks in large part to his diary, preserved by generations of descendants. As Basu recounts in her book of the same name, Karim was born near Jhansi, the second-oldest child of six. His father, Haji Wuzeeruddin, was a hospital assistant, a skilled position that required some medical qualifications.
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The first time Shrabani Basu heard of Abdul Karim, she was carrying out research for a book about the history of curry in the late s. A few years later, while on holiday with her family, she came across a painting of Karim in Osborne House, a former private home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the U. He was obviously someone very special to her. And what had his relationship with the Queen of England been like? But Basu could not see the whole picture. Basu flew to Agra to search for descendants of Karim, who had no children and died in , just eight years after Queen Victoria. The trail had gone cold.
Their marriage was the love story of all royal love stories , brought to life in the recent PBS series Victoria. Some of us also know about Victoria and John Brown, the kilt-wearing, hard-drinking Scottish footman she leaned on heavily after Albert died. That special friendship was the focus of the film Mrs. Brown , starring Judi Dench. But there was another confidante of Victoria's—a man named Abdul Karim—whose relationship with the Queen was lesser-known, yet wildly fascinating. The film Victoria and Abdul is a chronicle of their unlikely alliance, and the story is one audiences are keen to hear.