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Authors: Shrabani Basu

Victoria & Abdul

BOOK: Victoria & Abdul
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For my daughters,
Sanchita and Tanaya

‘I am so very fond of him. He is so good & gentle & understanding … & is a real comfort to me.’

Queen Victoria to her daughter-in-law,
Louise, Duchess of Connaught
3 November 1888


Working in the historic archives of Windsor Castle was one of the most pleasurable moments of writing this book. For this I have to thank Jill Kelsey, Deputy Registrar of the Royal Archives, and Pam Clark, for all their help in sorting through the material and for coming to my aid whenever I found reading Queen Victoria’s handwriting a challenge. Thanks also for the wonderful tea and cakes which provided a welcome break every day!

Thank you to Sophie Gordon, Curator of the Photographic Collection at Windsor Castle, and to Katie Holyoak of the Royal Collections at St James’s Palace for all their help and patience. I am grateful to Her Majesty the Queen for her gracious permission to reproduce material from the Royal Archives.

This book could not have been written without the complete access to the several volumes of the Reid Archives provided by Sir Alexander and Lady Michaela Reid and I am truly indebted to them for all their help and generous hospitality in their beautiful house in Jedburgh. I would also like to thank them for permission to quote from the diaries and journals of Sir James Reid and for use of photographs from his scrapbook.

My thanks to Michael Hunter, Curator at Osborne House, for all his help and especially for taking me to the basement at Osborne House to show me the menus from Queen Victoria’s time. I am also grateful for his permission to use images from the files.

I am grateful to the staff at the British Library for their patience and guidance.

In Agra, I would like to thank Syed Raju and Rajiv Saxena for their invaluable help in the search for Abdul Karim’s grave. My thanks also go to the staff at the Regional Archives in Agra for their help in tracing Karim’s files.

In Delhi, I would like to thank Krishna Menon for translating Queen Victoria’s Hindustani Journals from Urdu into both Hindi and English.

I would like to thank all the descendants of Abdul Karim in Bangalore and Karachi who allowed me to read his personal memoirs and access family photographs and memorabilia. In Bangalore, I am grateful to Begum Qamar Jehan, grand-niece of Abdul Karim and daughter of Abdul Rashid, for sharing her memories of Karim Cottage. I would also like to thank Javed Mahmood, Naved Hassan, Lubna Hassan and Samina Mahmood. In Karachi, I am grateful to Rizwana Sartaj and Sayeed-ul-Zafar Sartaj for all their help with the memoirs and their generous hospitality. I am also grateful to Khalid Masroor, Umrana Kazmi, Afza Kaiser Alam, Ishrat Hazoor Khan, Abid Sahebzadah, Hina and Sharoze, Rukshana, Nighat Afzal, Khursheed Alam, Dabeer Alam, Faisal Sartaj, Kamran Sartaj, Mahjabeen Sahebzada, Zafar Jahan, Huma Inam, Ambreen Waqar, Adil Sartaj, Asif Alam, Javaid Manzoor and Farhat Manzoor.

Very special thanks are owed to my agent, Jonathan Conway, who flagged me off on Karim’s trail, helped me structure my thoughts and whose sense of humour kept me going.

I am grateful to Simon Hamlet, commissioning editor at The History Press, for believing in the book from the start, and to my meticulous editor, Abigail Wood.

I would like to thank Aveek Sarkar, my editor-in-chief at
Ananda Bazar Patrika
, for his constant support and encouragement with all my books. Thanks also to Vishal Jadeja, Prince of Morvi, for his input on his ancestor. For inputs and help in various ways, I am grateful to historians Indrani Chatterjee, Sumit Guha, Shahid Amin and Kusoom Vadgama.

To my sisters, Nupur and Moushumi, I owe more than I can ever say, for all their help in Delhi and Agra, in locating Karim’s grave and sourcing translations. Thanks to my husband, Dipankar, for his patience and support and for brewing endless cups of tea, and to my daughters, Sanchita and Tanaya, for their enthusiasm in reading my early drafts, acting as my helpdesks for all technical problems and for persuading me to enter the virtual world and finally set up a website. To all of you, I owe this book.

Shrabani Basu



Title page



Author’s Note


Dramatis Personae

Queen Victoria’s Family Tree

Map of India showing Crown Territories and Princely States

Map of Britain showing Royal Palaces and Cities





A Jubilee Present


An Indian Durbar


Curries and Highlanders


Becoming the Munshi


A Grant of Land


Indian Affairs


The Viceroy Receives a Christmas Card


The Household Conspires


Rebellion in the Ranks






Death of a Queen


Last Days in Agra




Notes and Sources




In order to retain the authenticity of the period, I have used the old British names of the various Indian cities in this book. Hence, Cawnpore for present-day Kanpur, Benares for Varanasi, Simla for Shimla, Bharatpore for Bharatpur, etc.

Queen Victoria often underlined her words for emphasis. The italicised words in her quotes indicate the words that she underlined in her letters.

The words ‘Hindustani lessons' refer to Urdu lessons and not Hindi lessons. The word Hindustani was used by the British as a generic term for both Urdu and Hindi.

Queen Victoria learnt to read and write in Urdu from Abdul Karim.


While writing the first edition of this book I was painfully aware that I had not been able to contact any of Abdul Karim’s descendants. The trail had gone cold as the family had left Agra after the partition of India and gone to Pakistan. Karim had no children and any descendants would be the children of his nephew, Abdul Rashid. With no names and no addresses in Pakistan, I had hit a dead end. I sent the book to press hoping that someone would contact me after publication.

BOOK: Victoria & Abdul
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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