The British Monarchy is well known for being extremely effective when it comes to covering up scandals and destroying compromising proofs, even when those are living people. Where secrets lay though, there usually are people willing to talk too. The many children of Queen Victoria, monarch of the United Kingdom of England during almost the whole 1800, managed to cover the friendship between her and the Indian slave Abdul Karim in order to delete almost all the evidence.

The “almost” here is necessary

All the written documents mentioning the young “Munshi” – teacher– of the queen went destroyed and during the 1900 no one knew about the special relationship of the two, which leaves room to a new interpretation of the open-mindedness of the sovereign.

Below: picture of Queen Victoria with Munshi in 1893

In 2010 a secret diary was found, the one of Abdul who revealed a complex and articulate friendship. The queen, 40 years older than him, was looking for a male figure able to substitute her deceased husband, dearly loved but died at a young age, creating a void in the court.

Tale of an exceptional meeting

In occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the queen in 1887, 50 amongst kings and queens from all over the world were invited to participate. Two of the monarchs present that day were Indian princes, and Victoria asked 2 Indian waiters to wait her guests.

One of the two waiters, Abdul Karim, enchanted the Queen immediately. She decided to make him become one of her personal slaves

Below: picture of Queen Victoria with Munshi at the Golden Jubilee in 1897

Abdul was only 24 when he arrived in England but his status as a slave was not very pleasant so he was hoping to come back to India. Enchanted by the young Indian, Victoria promoted him as her own teacher of Urdu language. He let her discover the curry, the Urdu writing and the hookah, which became extremely used at Buckingham Palace. It is important to remember that Queen Victoria, become a supporter of India, was Empress of India, English colony which remained under the crown until the peaceful resistance of Gandhi in 1947.

Abdul and Victoria spent many years together and the Queen discovered a lot about a part of world that was pretty much alien to her.

The friendship between the two was seen as an enormous scandal at court

Abdul was Muslim, from a low class, yet he was the closest person to the Queen, the most powerful monarch in the world. Victoria was accompanied by her teacher everywhere, trips and official ceremonies to the point that many accused her to have lost her reason. Victoria defended her decisions with bravery and guarantee to Abdul a golden pension as by granting him several lands in India.

The two fuelled the scandal by spending a night together in one of the cottages of the Queen, place which had hosted only the Prince Albert before Abdul. Despite a romantic relationship is unlikely according to the historians, the two were certainly sharing a special friendship, one of a kind. Abdul filled up that missing male role in the life of Victoria but entertaining her, teaching her different things about his land. It is important to mention how, unlike the common attitude of the members of the English court, Victoria was far from any type of racist ideology. During her reign slavery was abolished and the queen had showed her love for different cultures by adopting Aina, an orphan princess with African origin.

Even though it would be extremely useful from an historical point of view to know how influential Abdul Karim was on the English politic of the end of the 1800, the registers with the correspondence between queen and her teacher were entirely destroyed. Amongst her personal notes there are only very short sentences in Urdu. Things like “Abdul teaches to the Queen”, “Hold me tight”, or “it will be missed a great amount by the Munshi”, of difficult interpretation.

Karim Abdul had a comfortable life for his social status. He got married to an Indian woman and they tried to have babies but the doctors from court, called by the queen, diagnosed him with gonorrhoea, which was preventing him from procreating. The man survived the queen for 8 years, dying in 1909 in Arda, India, in his own house that the Queen had built for him.

Below: Abdul Karim painted by Rudolf Swoboda in 1888

The story hads been transformed into a film titled “Victoria e Abdul”. Trailer below

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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