Victoria & Abdul by Shrabani Basu
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Tall and handsome Abdul was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Within a year, Abdul had grown to become a powerful figure at court, the Queen’s teacher, or Munshi, her counsel on Urdu and Indian affairs, and a friend close to the Queen’s heart. “I am so very fond of him.,” Queen Victoria would write in 1888, “He is so good and gentle and understanding….a real comfort to me.”
This marked the beginning of the most scandalous decade in Queen Victoria’s long reign. Devastated first by the death of Prince Albert in 1861 and then her personal servant John Brown in 1883, Queen Victoria quickly found joy in an intense and controversial relationship with her Munshi, who traveled everywhere with her, cooked her curries and cultivated her understanding of the Indian subcontinent–a region, as Empress of India, she was long intrigued by but could never visit. The royal household roiled with resentment, but their devotion grew in defiance of all expectation and the societal pressures of their time and class and lasted until the Queen’s death on January 22, 1901.
Drawn from never-before-seen first-hand documents that had been closely guarded secrets for a century, Shrabani Basu’s Victoria & Abdul is a remarkable history of the last years of the 19th century in English court, an unforgettable view onto the passions of an aging Queen, and a fascinating portrayal of how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the British Empire.
What I thought
Victoria & Abdul is a biography about Victoria later in her life and her relationship with her Mushi (teacher). It seems that for the most part this is not a widely know part of Victoria’s life. Her son Edward went to great lengths to erase all reference of Abdul from his mother’s history. This story shows how much Victoria cared for her subjects even if they were a continent away. Victoria went to great lengths to learn the language and customs of her subjects in India. She relied on Abdul’s teachings to become a more understanding ruler and for that, I find that I admire her even more.