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Queen Victoria and her young servant Abdul Karim

Tags: queen abdul brown
 AT 68  Queen Victoria was the  image  of  respectability –   until she made a  gloriously unsuitable new friend Abdul Karim

AT 68  Queen Victoria was the  image  of  respectability –   until she made a  gloriously unsuitable new friend Abdul Karim
The English-speaking Indian attendant was young, handsome, full of entertaining tales but hated by Her Majesty’s  court,  country and  her children

As biographer Shrabani Basu  told The Sun: “Not only is he Indian, a commoner, he’s a Muslim. He ticks all the wrong boxes.”

However, the Queen refused to give him up and Abdul withstood the era’s brazen racism to light up the final years of her reign.
Victoria was so  grateful  she even tried to make her confidant a knight, but was thwarted by officials who threatened to declare her INSANE if she went through with it.
Judi Dench, as the monarch in the movie depicting the story, says: “I am greedy and fat — but I am not insane.”
Judi, 82, last played Victoria in 1997’s Mrs Brown about the queen’s first great friendship with a lowly staffer, Scots ghillie John Brown.
When Brown died in 1883,   Victoria — who had lost  beloved husband Albert in 1861 — was bereft and  fell into depression until 24-year-old  Abdul arrived in her life in 1887.
 Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in the new film
FOCUS FEATURE

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in the new film
Abdul had been working as a clerk in a prison in Agra,  northern India, when his bosses were tipped off that Her Majesty would love an English-speaking Indian attendant.
He was selected and packed off to Windsor to work for her as a “gift” for her Golden Jubilee.
The queen was instantly impressed, writing in her diary on the day he arrived that he was “tall . . . with a fine serious countenance.”
Within weeks she was tucking into “excellent curry” and learning  Hindustani.
The chirpy queen noted: “It is a great interest to me for both the  language and the people, I have  naturally never come into real contact with before.”
 Shrabani discovered Abdul’s long-lost diary of his years in royal service during her research.

Shrabani discovered Abdul’s long-lost diary of his years in royal service during her research.
Meanwhile, almost everybody else around her was horrified.
Author Shrabani, 55,  spent years in royal archives researching Victoria And Abdul, the book on which the film — also starring Bollywood’s Ali Fazal as Abdul —  is based.
She said:  “Tongues definitely wagged. They used to call him the brown Mr Brown. The papers’ gossip columns wrote about them.
“Her personal physician says: ‘She’s gone and taken him to Glassalt Shiel’, a little cottage up at Balmoral which she had sworn never to go to after John Brown’s death.
 The queen was instantly impressed, writing in her diary on the day he arrived that he was 'tall . . . with a fine serious countenance'

The queen was instantly impressed, writing in her diary on the day he arrived that he was 'tall . . . with a fine serious countenance'
“So there is gossip going around and lots and lots of disapproval.
“But a sexual relationship, no. At some stage she is his ‘mother’ and at others his best friend.”
But she added:  “The physical side was important. He had the same physical profile as John Brown — they were both 6ft tall.
“She liked a strong man next to her, caring for her.”
Abdul also enthralled Victoria with  stories about life in India, of which she had been declared Empress in 1877 but which she never visited.
Shrabani said: “She couldn’t go to India because the journey took six weeks, but India came to her in the form of Abdul.
“He told her about the festivals, the Taj Mahal and she loved these stories. He was not formal, he was 24 and he treated her like a human being.”
 When Brown, pictured,. died in 1883,   Victoria — who had lost  beloved husband Albert in 1861 — was bereft and  fell into depression until 24-year-old  Abdul arrived in her life in 1887
GETTY - CONTRIBUTOR

When Brown, pictured,. died in 1883,   Victoria — who had lost  beloved husband Albert in 1861 — was bereft and  fell into depression until 24-year-old  Abdul arrived in her life in 1887
In return, she acted like one, and the pair often discussed very personal matters.
Shrabani said: “She stopped short of discussing sexual positions, but she was discussing why his wife was not conceiving, and advising him on what day of the month she should be careful and a whole lot of instructions. She spoke  frankly to him.
“When I read the journals I realised how much she loved him.”
The Queen refused to give him up and Abdul withstood the era’s brazen racism to light up the final years of her reign
Soon the Queen gave Abdul the title of “munshi”, or teacher — and in his own diary of the time he noted of the promotion: “It was a day I shall never forget.”
Shrabani discovered Abdul’s long-lost diary of his years in  royal service during her research.
It is a treasure trove which also contains his impressions of places such as London Zoo and Madame  Tussauds.
He also notes of a trip to Scotland: “Glasgow is a very dirty town but it could not be otherwise as it is purely a business centre.”
Meanwhile, Abdul’s promotion to munshi from mere attendant drew more jealousy from other courtiers.
Rumours circulated that one of Abdul’s close friends was in league with pro-independence Muslims in India and that he was sharing  Victoria’s secret papers with them.
 Victoria with husband Albert in 1960
HULTON ARCHIVE - GETTY

Victoria with husband Albert in 1860
During one trip home to India Abdul was even followed by government spies — who found no evidence of any suspicious behaviour.
Shrabani said:  “They tried hard to nail something on him and the staff decide to go on strike and that doesn’t work either.”
Instead, the Queen continued to treat him as a favourite, granting him his own land in Agra, having him accompany her on her European jaunts and seating him at the same table as princes. In 1894 he was  elevated to the position of Her Majesty’s Indian Secretary, causing fury.
Writer Shrabani said: “There was disapproval of John Brown, but this one is even worse, The thing is that John Brown was never promoted, he stayed a servant. Yet within a year Abdul Karim is promoted to  becoming the munshi — the teacher.
“It was racism, they called them the black brigade. This commoner had a room close to the Queen, he had his own carriage — the lords and ladies couldn’t take it.”
 A scene from Victoria and Abdul
ALAMY

A scene from Victoria and Abdul
But the Queen  ignored  the sniping and did as she pleased — until she tried to knight Abdul in 1897.  That was the final straw for her courtiers.
The Queen’s personal physician Sir James Reid wrote to her, saying: “The only charitable explanation that can be given is that Your Majesty is not sane.”
He added: “I have seen the Prince of Wales yesterday and he has said he is quite ready to come forward, because it affects the throne.”
With her eldest son, the future King Edward VII, against her the Queen backed down.
 Humble . . . Abdul’s gravestone in Agra

Humble . . . Abdul’s gravestone in Agra
But she remained close to Abdul, and recognising he would not be well treated after her death, the canny queen ensured he was given extra land back in India and a pension.
Shrabani said: “There was a real beating heart there. She was passionate, she was way ahead of time.  The fact was she took on her court on racism.”
Once she died in 1901 aged 81, Edward ordered that all Abdul’s  treasured letters from the queen be seized and burned.
He was then  sent back to India in disgrace, where he died just eight years later aged 46.
Shrabani said: “He was a broken man. He’d had the Queen as his best friend and after her death was treated as a common criminal.”


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