I am a self-confessed history geek who loves nothing better than to get into a story from the past — especially one that is as relevant to today’s policy discussions and societal concerns as it was when it first occurred.
Few stories, however, have managed to tick all the boxes for me as well as the story of Victoria and Abdul. When I first came across the book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, written by Shrabani Basu, it was an innocent interest in a historical story that made me venture in, but by the time I was finished, I was convinced that this was something greater. It is what prompted me to convince our organisation to feature it in the launch of our new Cordoba Heritage Series, which kicked off on the 10th of May 2012.
Even for those of us who have at one stage or another studied Victorian history, this is a relatively unknown story.
In June 1887 two Indian servants were sent to Queen Victoria as a present for her Golden Jubilee. One was the 24-year-old Abdul Karim. Young Karim immediately caught the Queen’s eye and was rapidly promoted to become her Indian Secretary in 1894. He cooked her curries, became her Hindustani tutor and delighted the elderly Queen with his stories about India, especially as she had not visited the sub-continent despite having the grand title of ‘Empress of India’, and soon became the lonely monarch’s closest companion.
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