Victoria & Abdul," starring the wonderful Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, based on a true story about the monarch and her relationship with her Muslim Indian servant, Abdul Karim. We both enjoyed the movie, and I promptly bought the book it was based on ("Victoria & Abdul" by Shrabani Basu) the next time we visited our local bookstore, and dove right into it.
In 1887, celebrating her Golden Jubilee, Queen Victoria was proud & delighted by the warm reception she received from her people -- but she was also filled with nostalgia, loneliness & grief that so many of her loved ones had not lived to share this milestone with her -- including her beloved husband, Albert, and her devoted Scottish servant, John Brown.
Into her life stepped Abdul Karim, one of several Indian servants and soldiers brought to England for the Jubilee year as a "gift" from India. Victoria was fascinated by all things Indian, and an unusual friendship developed between the two. Within weeks, he became her "Munshi" (teacher), helping her learn to speak & write in Urdu. Over time, his influence grew, and he became her chief secretary/advisor on all matters related to India.
Victoria proved to be much more enlightened, accepting of and interested in India, its people and culture than other members of her family and court, who (typical of most Britons of the era) shunned Karim socially and deeply resented his position and influence.
The movie seems to take place over just a few years time, but Karim actually spent more than 13 years in England, from 1887 until the Queen's death in January 1901. He was the last person to see her body before the coffin was sealed, and among the few mourners present for her burial (as she had instructed). Soon afterward, however, members of the Royal Family and several guards entered his cottage, confiscated and burned all the letters he had received from the Queen, and ordered him (and the Queen's other Indian servants) to return to India immediately. (I thought this part of the movie was perhaps a Hollywood embellishment. Sadly, it was not. And, in fact, British government envoys visited Karim's family in India not just once but TWICE after his death in 1909, too, demanding the return of any further correspondence from the Queen.) The Queen's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, removed all references to Karim from her mother's diaries (not realizing that her mother also wrote about Karim in her Urdu lesson notebooks...! which sat untouched for decades in the royal archives). This story in Vanity Fair is a good summary of this unusual story and how it was rediscovered by Basu 100+ years later.
I will admit I thought the last part of the book dragged a bit as the courtiers messaged each other and the Queen about their displeasure over the Munshi, and conspired to get rid of him. Overall, though, I thought this was a fascinating & well researched story. Kudos to Basu for uncovering this hidden gem of history!
ALI note: In both the book & the movie, Victoria expresses her concern about the Munshi's lack of children. Having had nine children herself (!), she was full of advice for the couple, and had them both examined by her personal doctor. Karim & his wife never did have any children. The few remaining keepsakes from Karim's time with the Queen which survived the palace purge (and later the 1947 partition of India) are now in the possession of his nephew's family.
This was book #16 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 67% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books. I am currently 4 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p ;)