The ‘unlikely’ friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, a 24-year-old Indian clerk had raised quite a few eyebrows in the corridors of power in Great Britain during the late 1800s. We try to find out if there is truth in the story. By Shikha Pushpan
Clandestine stories of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Rahim recently came under the spotlight with Hollywood director Stephen Frears’ releasing the trailor to his upcoming period drama, ‘Victoria & Abdul’. The film contemplates the varied layers of the relationship that was abhorred by the Royal family – to the extent that Abdul Karim was sacked unceremoniously within hours of the Queen’s death in 1901 and sent packing back home.
It all began during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 when Abdul arrived in England to wait at the table. He was presented to her as a “gift from India”, but soon became her teacher, and later, her highly decorated secretary. He taught her Urdu and she imparted him lessons in English. The growing ties between the two became so evident that Abdul began to be compared to John Brown – the Scottish servant who befriended the Queen after the death of her husband in 1861.
London-based author Shrabani Basu, whose book ‘Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant’ is the inspiration for the film, told the BBC in a 2011 interview that the two shared a “passionate” relationship. “In letters to him (Abdul) over the years between his arrival in the UK and her death in 1901, the queen signed letters to him as ‘your loving mother’ and ‘your closest friend’. On some occasions, she even signed off her letters with a flurry of kisses – a highly unusual thing to do at that time. It was unquestionably a passionate relationship – a relationship which I think operated on many different layers in addition to the mother-and-son ties between a young Indian man and a woman who at the time was over 60 years old,” Basu had said.
Abdul came into the Queen’s life, four years after John’s death. Basu writes in her book about how the two set many rumours rolling when they spent the night alone in the same highland cottage where the Queen used to stay with John earlier. After her death, the Queen’s son, King Edward VII wanted to destroy all records of their relationship. But he was clearly unsuccessful in doing so. Basu traced down Abdul’s family in India and Pakistan to unearth his diaries and reveal the relationship between Queen Victoria and Abdul in her book.
While the liaison between the two had sent shock waves in Britain, little is known about it in India.
The film stars Judi Dench as the Queen and Bollywood actor Ali Fazal as Abdul. It is slated to hit the theatres in September, 2017. Watch the trailer below if you haven’t yet.