How did a 24-year old Muslim from Agra, India go from waiting tables to playing a central role in the British Empire? The power of love knows no limits. Or so reports The National in a fascinating article on Queen Victoria of England and her Indian Muslim lover.
When Abdul Karim was brought from India to England to serve at a dinner (note- the dinner was at Buckingham Palace and Karim was serving an Indian princess!) he couldn’t have guessed that within a year he would be serving as the closest confidant to Queen Victoria.
And we would not be aware of his influential role if it weren’t for a young author from Calcutta who was writing a book about curry. The author, Shrabani Basu, learned that the queen had ordered the dish to be on the menu everyday for her final fifteen years and thought there might be a reason why, so she decided to do some investigating.
And a good thing she did, or the royal court would have succeeded in burying all records, photographs and correspondence of this incredible, erm, friendship. Thanks to a frail, distant relative of Karim who had kept his diaries, Basu has been able to share the story in her new book Victoria and Abdul.
From Serving Tables to International Policy
Abdul Karim came to serve tables at the golden jubilee dinner in 1887 and within a year was one of the most influential characters in the Queen’s court, much to the dismay of the royal government. After the prime minister stopped Victoria from awarding Karim a knighthood, she moved him into a position as Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
Karim counseled the queen on all kinds of issues, and had a profound influence on Victoria’s attitude towards India. At his advice, she demanded that viceroys in charge of the one-time colony take new measures 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,” Basu said.
How did Karim do it? Well, it seems he was a good friend.
“I am so very fond of him,” Queen Victoria was recorded as telling her daughter-in-law, Louise, Duchess of Cornwall, in 1888. “He is so good and gentle and understanding … and is a real comfort to me.”
Although the court was horrified by the closeness Karim’s relationship with the queen (horrified, but just imagine the same situation today!), Basu doubts that the two were actually lovers.
Friends to The End
The friendship carried on for 15 years until the queen’s death. Victoria had ordered that Karim be given a place among the principal mourners at her funeral, which he was – and then he was promptly sent back to India by King Edward. It was ordered that all evidence of Karim and his relationship with the queen be destroyed.
However, Karim managed to get his diary out of the country and his family, who knew how special that hand-written book was, kept it for an entire century. Now, for the first time, the diary and the wonderful tale it contains has been made public.
Get it while it’s hot!