Previously undiscovered diaries have been found
by an author based in the UK which show the intense relationship between Queen
Victoria and the Indian man employed to be her teacher.
The diaries have been used by London-based author
Shrabani Basu to update her book Victoria and Abdul - which tells the story of
the queen's close relationship with a tall and handsome Indian Muslim called
The diaries add weight to suggestions that the queen was arguably far closer to Mr Karim than she was to John Brown - the Scottish servant who befriended her after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861.
They show that when the young Muslim was contemplating
throwing in his job, soon after his employment started, because it was too
"menial", the queen successfully begged him not to go.
Mr Karim was just 24 when he arrived in England from
Agra to wait at table during Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887 - four
years after Mr Brown's death. He was given to her as a "gift from India".
Within a year, the young Muslim was established as a
powerful figure in court, becoming the queen's teacher - or munshi - and
instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs.
Mr Karim was to have a profound influence on Queen
Victoria's life - like Mr Brown becoming one of her closest confidants - but
unlike him, was promoted well beyond servant status.
"In letters to him 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'," author Shrabani Basu told the
"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."
Ms Basu hints that it is unlikely that the pair were
ever lovers - although they did set tongues wagging by spending a quiet night
alone in the same highland cottage where earlier she and John Brown used to
"When Prince Albert died, Victoria famously said
that he was her husband, close friend, father and mother," Ms Basu said. "I
think it's likely that Abdul Karim fulfilled a similar role."
Mr Karim's influence over the queen became so great
that she stipulated that he should be accorded the honor of being among the
principal mourners at her funeral in Windsor Castle.
"The elderly queen specifically gave this
instruction, even though she knew it would provoke intense opposition from her
family and household," Ms Basu said.
"If the royal household hated Brown, it
absolutely abhorred Abdul Karim."
During his service with the queen, Mr Karim was
bestowed with many honors as the royal party travelled around Europe meeting
monarchs and prime ministers.
He taught her how to write in Urdu and Hindi,
introduced her to curry - which became a daily item on the royal menu - and
eventually became her highly decorated secretary.
He and his wife were given residences on all of the
main royal estates in the UK and land in India. He was allowed to carry a sword
and wear his medals in court - and was permitted to bring family members from
India to England.
"Mr Karim's father even got away with being the
first person to smoke a hookah [water-pipe] in Windsor Castle, despite the
queen's aversion to smoking," Ms Basu said.
"The queen's munshi was named in court circulars,
given the best positions at operas and banquets, allowed to play billiards in
all the royal palaces and had a private horse carriage and footman."
That Mr Karim inspired the empress of India could be
seen not just by her newfound love of curry. Her eagerness to learn Urdu and
Hindi because of his teaching was so strong that she even learned to write in
both languages - and gave him a signed photo written in Urdu.
She also used his briefings on political developments
in India at the turn of the 19th Century to berate successive viceroys, her
representatives in India - much to their displeasure - on measures they could
have taken to reduce communal tensions.
"At a time when the British Empire was at its
height, a young Muslim occupied a central position of influence over its
sovereign," Ms Basu said.
"It was a relationship that sent shockwaves
through the royal court and was arguably a relationship far more scandalous than
her much reported friendship with Mr Brown."
THE KARIM DIARIES
On meeting Queen Victoria for the first time:
"I was somewhat nervous at the approach of the Great Empress... I
presented nazars (gifts) by exposing, in the palms of my hands, a gold mohar
(coin) which Her Majesty touched and remitted as is the Indian custom."
Quoting a letter written by Queen Victoria
imploring him not to resign:
"I shall be very sorry to part with you
for I like and respect you, but I hope you will remain till the end of this year
or the beginning of the next that I may learn enough Hindustani from you to
speak a little."
On 'good fortune':
jugglers happened to be in Nice while Her Majesty was there. When Her Majesty
came to hear of them she sent a request to have them brought before her to
exhibit their tricks. The Queen was highly amused and delighted - and the honor
which was given to these poor jugglers must have made them happy for life."
Such was the level of ill-feeling he generated that
barely a few hours after the queen's funeral, her son Edward VII unceremoniously
sacked Abdul Karim.
In addition, he ordered that all records of their
relationship - kept at Mr Karim's homes in India and the UK - should be
But remarkable detective work by Ms Basu in India and
Pakistan unearthed Mr Karim's diaries - kept by surviving family members since
his death in 1909 - which detail his 10 years in London between Queen Victoria's
golden and diamond jubilees.
The diaries and other correspondence were taken back to
India by Mr Karim and his nephew, Abdul Rashid, after their dismissal and were
in turn sneaked out of India to Pakistan 40 years later when his family migrated
during the violence at the time of partition.
A surviving family member in India read about Ms Basu's
book in a local newspaper and told her that the diaries were being kept by
another branch of the family in Karachi, which she duly tracked down.
"I was fortunate enough to have unearthed a truly
remarkable love story," Ms Basu reflected.
Shrabani Basu's updated book, Victoria and Abdul, is
published by the History Press. – Courtesy BBC