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A tale of an unusual friendship

A tale of an unusual friendship
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It is exactly a year since the English movie Victoria and Abdul was first released in the UK The story of the British Queen Victoria and her...

It is exactly a year since the English movie ‘Victoria and Abdul’ was first released in the UK. The story of the British Queen Victoria and her controversial friendship with her Indian servant Abdul Karim was filmed by Stephen Frears and the screenplay by Lee Hall was based on Indian-British author Shrabani Basu’s book ‘Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of Queen’s Closest Confidante’.

The historian and journalist Shrabani first chanced upon Abdul Karim’s portrait hung along with other royal paintings during an exhibition, which fired her curiosity. She began researching and unearthed the controversial story that was put under the wraps by the royal family.

“It was when I was touring an exhibition at the Isle of Wight Summer Home in 2003 that I saw this painting of an Indian nobleman holding a book, then I saw another painting and grew curious. I asked to look at Queen’s Hindustani journals at Windsor Castle, which were actually workbooks used while she was learning Urdu from Abdul.

No one looked at them until then. There was a lot about their bond over Urdu and stories from India written by Queen herself in these pages,” shares the author, whose book has all the trappings of a periodic film. And evidently, Judy Dench as Queen Victoria and Ali Faizal as Abdul Karim recreated the story in the film that will have its television premiere on Sony Pix.

The unusual friendship that developed between an Indian, an ordinary jail clerk from Agra sent to England as a present on Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebration and the queen, led to a lot of controversy in the royal household. The queen grew fond of him, learnt Hindustani from him, gave him the title of a Munshi, had his family brought from India and stay with him, she travelled with him and gave him many rewards causing jealousy amongst the English staff of Queen Victoria.

The proximity grew so much that Queen’s son and other family members too did not like it and did everything in their power to break the special bond. This made Queen Victoria more protective and called her staff racists. Abdul Karim kept the Queen company until her death after which he was unceremoniously sent away to India after burning all the evidence and letters that the Queen had written to Abdul.

Shrabani as a part of her research investigated the British archives. She had been to New Delhi and Agra in search of kith and kin of Abdul until she found that during partition the family (his nephew) left for Karachi. Shrabani then went to Karachi and met the family who knew very little, but they had saved an old trunk in the attic. It was in this trunk that Shrabani discovered what she calls a priceless treasure.

The diary that Abdul kept that described his relationship with the Queen, and there were a few pictures and also some letters, which he saved and brought along with him to India. In a way, this discovery was crucial to the story that was otherwise buried in history. “The story shows the humane side of Queen Victoria,” adds Shrabani.

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