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Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidante

Courtesy – The Hindu –Metro Plus

Book cover
Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidante

Abdul Karim, a 24 year old youth from Agra, was a gift from India to the British Queen Victoria, to commemorate her Golden Jubilee in the year 1887. Dressed in a scarlet tunic and an Indian turban, the 24-year-old landed in England as a waiter at the Royal table.

Abdul rose through the ranks and file, and the Queen’s love for Indian curries soon made him the Queen's personal cook. Abdul, the favored cook soon became her ‘munshi’, her instructor, her guide, her confidant and finally the decorated Indian secretary. Abdul had filled the shoes of John Brown, who had died four years earlier.Queen Victoria wanted to learn the language of the country she ruled and Abdul was her instructor. Abdul, whose English was not too good when he left the shores of India improved as days went by in England. The Queen started confiding in him more and more. She had so much confidence on Abdul that she took his advice on various matters. Abdul was the 'dearest Munshi', to the widowed Queen. He narrated Indian stories, served Indian dishes and assisted her with official correspondence.

The Queen's wrote numerous letters to Abdul, almost every day, and they were mostly addressed as 'dear Abdul' signed as "your true friend", "your dearest friend" and even as your "dearest mother" at times.

Abdul’s rise put the royal household in turmoil. The royal household was deeply suspicious of Abdul's influence over the Queen - but the Queen did not care. She handed him cottages in Windsor, Balmorals and Osborne. She wanted to make him a knight, but had to back down due to pressure from Lord Salisbury and made him a member of the Victoria Order Commander of the Indian Empire. She insisted that he have his private carriage, be allowed to smoke and have his own billiards room.

The Queen was so fond of Abdul that he spent almost all his time with her. In her letters, the Queen even advised Abdul and his wife - a childless couple - on how to conceive.

Queen Victoria died at the age of 81 and was succeeded by King Edward VII. Soon after her death Abdul was sent back to India. He had served the queen for 13 long years. All the letters and notes written by the Queen to Abdul were burnt by Victoria's children after her death.

Abdul was 37 when he returned to India and later died at the age of 46.
What you have read is fact not fiction!

Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidante, is a non-fictional account of the strong friendship between Britain's Queen Victoria and her Indian munshi.

The book is authored by London-based Shrabani Basu and published by Rupa Publications. It is divided into 15 chapters and traces Abdul’s early life in Agra, his journey to England, Victoria's attachment to Abdul Karim, the queen's death and the munshi's last days.

This is how the book took shape……..

Shrabani Basu, while researching her first book Curry, was told that Queen Victoria had once ordered that the spicy infusion be prepared every day in the royal kitchens. And that a young man named Abdul Karim had been the one to introduce her to it.“Then I chanced upon a portrait of him in the Indian Corridor of the palace,” said Shrabani. The serious countenance of the young man, the gold-rimmed turban, the vermillion jacket and the book in his hands brimmed with gravitas — the regality was unmistakable, uncharacteristic of a servant of the Queen. “She had that done on purpose. To assert that he was not to be treated as a mere servant.”That painting would become a person, and then a book. Victoria & Abdul – The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant, is a retelling of the remarkable relationship between the monarch and her manservant, painstakingly recreated from innumerable personal journals, meticulously-kept diaries and exhaustive letters. “It wasn't easy,” Shrabani smiled. “The Queen's handwriting is appalling.”

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