Abdul, the Young Servant Who Charmed Queen Victoria’s Heart

During the celebration Queen Victoria's fiftieth anniversary on the throne, 50 kings and queens were invited. Two of the monarchs present were two Indian princes, and the Queen specifically asked for two waiters of Indian origin to attend to her Indian guests. One of the waiters, Abdul Karim immediately charmed Queen Victoria and in the following years, would go from being a servant to a powerful advisor to the Queen – and a topic of scandal at court.

There has always been rumors regarding Queen Victoria's relationship with Abdul Karim, and all records of the Queen's young “munshi” (teacher), as she called him, were supposedly destroyed by relatives. However, a discovery of Abdul’s lost diary in 2010 revealed that the two were more than just friends.

Abdul was only 24 when he had arrived in England, but he intended to return home as his lowly status in England did not satisfy him, until he met Queen Victoria. Smitten by the young Indian, the Queen upped his status by making Abdul her teacher in the language of Urdu. Abdul introduced her to curry, Urdu writing, and even a hookah that his father smoked in the palace.

Forty years his senior, Queen Victoria brought Abdul with her on all her trips and treated him as a close companion. The court was, as expected, against the closeness of the two. Abdul was a Muslim and a servant and yet he was closer to the Queen than anyone else in her immediate circle. They thought she had lost her mind, or at least tried very hard to insinuate she had. But the Queen defended her protegee, even giving him a generous land grant in India.

The two added more fuel to the fire when they spent a night together in one of Queen Victoria's cottages where she had only previously stayed with Albert. While most historians thought a romantic relationship was unlikely, the two surely had a special bond. Abdul filled the masculine void in the Queen’s life, entertaining her and teaching her.

Thanks to the disdain of her own family, records of correspondence between Abdul and Victoria were almost entirely destroyed after the Queen’s death. A few souvenirs exchanged however did survive. In her personal notes, the words “Abdul taught the Queen,” “You will miss the munshi very much,” and “Hold me tight” were written in Urdu calligraphy. She also signed off her letters in Urdu with: “dearest mother.” The context might be forever locked away in-between the pages of their diaries, but their fascination with one another is well documented in a movie soon to be released called Victoria and Abdul...

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