Royal palaces have always been witness to innumerable stories of love, hatred, passion, murder, assasinations and politics above many things else. One such story is of the British royal family about the love story of the erstwhile Queen of England, Queen Victoria and an Indian clerk from Jhansi, Abdul Karim.
Taking a sneak-peek into the heavily guarded lives of the monarchs in today’s times of social media is not such a revelation. But the situation was completely different a century ago. There was no such media to make public the secretive lives of the kings and queens. So, it isn’t surprising that many people are still in the dark about Abdul Karim, an Indian Muslim attendant of Queen Victoria, and his journey from Jhansi to Buckingham Palace.
The Enticing Story Of The Unlikely Love Affair
It is said that Abdul, a clerk from Jhansi, was sent to England as a “gift” from India on May 1887. Within a year, the young man was elevated to the rank of a teacher in the queen’s court, where he was assigned to teach Urdu and Hindi to the queen. In turn, the queen would personally teach him English. According to a book by Shrabani Basu titled ‘Victoria and Abdul’, the queen soon became so proficient in the language, she started making diary entries calling it her “Hindustani Journal”. She also started enjoying “curry” that was cooked by him.
In fact, the queen was so smitten by him that Karim was awarded the title of Munshi or tutor, even though it did not come with any formal perks. In fact, unofficially, Basu writes that he had even moved into the Queen’s higher circles and had houses in Royal Palaces of Windsor in England, Balmoral in Scotland and Osborne House in Isle of Wight. He came to be known among these circles, as the ‘Queen’s Indian Secretary’.
The Relationship Grew Deeper
There has been a lot of curiosity about the relationship shared between the queen and her munshi. It is said that in her letters to Karim, the queen used to write either “your dear mother” or “your closest friend” at the end. Occasionally, she would even make kissing symbols in the letters, which was exceptional during those times. Furthermore, the emotional content in the letters also lead many to question their rapport. Experts say that theirs was a relationship akin to either lovers or mother-and-son.
Their Relationship Was Not Favored By The Royal Household
Although there isn’t much proof but it is said that Karim entered Victoria’s life four years after her husband, Prince Albert, had passed away. In her growing fondness of Karim, the entire royal household saw a spark and a dedication, which they thought Karim was using for his personal gains. In fact, the Queen was chided as “Mrs Brown” behind her back for this reason.
As per Banerjee’s book, Karim seemingly also had coveted the title of Nawab and a Knighthood, but had to settle for the Royal Victorian Order, which would not have any political implication in India.
Upon Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Karim was sent back to India after serving her for 15 years, along with all the Indian servants of the Royal Menagerie. It is said that Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, destroyed most of their correspondence.
Karim passed away in 1909 at the age of 46, survived by two of his wives.