Britain royal court’s Indian Munshi restored to rightful place in history

Vastavam web: The first Indian to ever hold an important position in the royal court of Britain has finally been restored to his rightful place in history, says the UK- based author who unearthed the story of Abdul Karim – a humble servant who went on to become Queen Victoria’s “Munshi” during the Raj era.Shrabani Basu’s book titled ‘Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant’ formed the basis of a new UK box-office success ‘Victoria & Abdul’, which has now opened in cinemas across India.The historian-author had stumbled upon the curious friendship between the British monarch who ruled over India and an assistant clerk from Agra Jail sent to her court in the late nineteenth century while researching a previous book on the history of curries in Britain.
She discovered that Abdul had also succeeded in carving out a niche in the royal kitchens to cook halal Indian food, which was enjoyed by the ageing monarch and also served to visiting dignitaries.These journals revealed the real voice of the Empress of India, who clearly felt more at ease to pen down her more personal thoughts in a language that was not accessible to too many people around her.”She steeped herself in her later years in Indian culture. She learnt to read and write in Urdu, she had curries cooked in her royal palaces – all under the guidance of her Munshi,” explains Basu.
However, the close bond between the ageing monarch and a mere servant from India did not go down well in the royal household, many of whom even threatened to go on strike against what they branded as “Munshi mania”.The India release of ‘Victoria & Abdul’, in which Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal take on the central roles, is now set to also help restore some respect for Abdul in his country of birth, where his grave in Agra had been discovered by Basu in a dilapidated state.
“I know his family and descendants are very happy that his place in history has been restored. He was the first Indian to have an important position in the royal court as the Queen’s principal Indian secretary and Munshi. He taught her Urdu and it is his influence that led to the building of the Durbar Room in Osborne House (Isle of Wight), a place visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists to the UK every year,” said Basu.