VICTORIA and Abdul is a well-researched narrative about a short but intimate relationship between Abdul Karim. The son of a lowly employee in Agra, Karim worked as a clerk in a jail. Its superintendent recommended his name to the Queen for attending on her in England when the Indian Durbar was about to start.
Once there, Karim slowly made his way into the Queen’s heart. He introduced her to flavoured Indian curries and aroused her interest in his language. Within a short time, he rose to become her Munshi, her clerk and teacher. He took part in palace theatricals, attended to her boxes and correspondence, and gave her Hindustani lessons on a regular basis. He accompanied her on royal trips abroad, and was noticed by the press and dignitaries in and outside England. When his wife and her mother joined him, she visited them regularly, and made others to do the same. She wrote to Karim almost daily, and signed her letters as his friend or mother.
The emotional bonding of the Queen with Karim irked her children and officials, in England as well as in India. Because of him, she fired letters to Viceroys to attend to matters that left them gasping. She secured a decent piece of land for him in India and a title for his father that was normally given to high dignitaries. When people complained against him to her, she always defended him, even when he deserved to be reprimanded for his actions.
When the Queen died, Karim was allowed to see her alone and to join the procession of mourners because she had willed it so. But immediately after her burial, his house was raided; all the letters he had got from the Queen were taken from him, and burnt in his presence. He was ordered to leave England.
Karim died in Agra at the age of forty-six. Basu’s engrossing narrative captures all the varying shades of an unusual relationship between Victoria and Karim, with all its moments of high drama. The book also contains details about Victoria’s relationship with Indian princes, and some rare photographs and documents.
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