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AFTER THE HALCYON DAYS

Victoria was undoubtedly one of the most loved and respected monarchs in history — the epitome of a Queen Mother. Her personality underwent a distinct change after her German-born husband died. She had been a faithful wife, bore many children and was very conservative. She was the role model of propriety for her subjects, and to this day, observance of strict decorum in speech and behaviour is known as Victorian prudery. She wore widows’ black dresses and her severest words of reprimand that have become proverbial are: “We are not amused.”

In her later years, her character underwent a remarkable change. She seemed fed-up with the stiff upper-lipped behaviour of the English aristocracy and the upper-classes from which the court officials and ladies-in-waiting came. She did not like living in Buckingham Palace and preferred other royal residences such as Balmoral or Windsor. She felt more at home with servants from the working classes. Her first favourite was John Brown, her Scottish buggy driver. Their relationship became a topic of gossip all over the Empire, and when he died, she was heart-broken. Then she imported half-a-dozen khidmatgars from India. They were all young, handsome Muslims from Agra. One of them was Hafiz Abdul Karim, the most erudite of the lot. They learnt the art of waiting at the royal table at meal times from the head butler. They were a colourful lot in brocade turbans, beards, sherwanis and churidars. Abdul Karim was the smartest of the lot. Within one year, he learnt to speak English fluently and was then able to converse with the Queen. From a waiter she elevated him to the rank of a munshi who would teach her Hindustani. She provided him and his family with a large cottage in the palace grounds. Everyday, Karim gave her lessons in spoken Hindustani and Urdu. She was soon able to talk to her Indian visitors in their language.

The sudden rise of Munshi Abdul Karim was strongly resented by the sahibs. They did their best to snub him and put him in his place. The Queen stood by him. She went out of her way and proposed his name for knighthood. There were loud protests and she had to withdraw her proposal. Instead, she conferred the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) on him, along with a new title, RVO (Royal Victorian Order), and honoured his father— who was a hakeem in Agra’s prison hospital — with the title, Khan Bahadur. The racial pettiness of the Whites can be gauged from an incident. Once Karim sent a Christmas card to Lord Elgin, viceroy of India. Instead of thanking him, Elgin questioned the audacity of a small-time munshi in sending him a greeting card.

As could be anticipated, Karim’s halcyon days came to an end with the death of the Queen. He was allowed to see her dead body but not to attend the funeral service in the cathedral, and he had to watch it from a loft. Worse was to come. One afternoon, the entire royal household barged into Karim’s cottage and ordered him to hand over every letter and scrap of paper on which the late Queen had written anything. They tore it all and threw them in the fire. They searched every corner of the cottage to make sure no evidence of the relationship was left.

A beaten and broken-hearted Karim returned to Agra. He died in 1909 and was buried in a remote graveyard beside the graves of his father and wife.

Shrabani Basu had earlier written a very moving biography of Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian-British spy who was shot by the Nazi Gestapo, that is being now made into a film by Lord Meghnad and Kishwar Desai. Basu has again done a commendable job digging up relevant material to write Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidante. It is totally absorbing.

However, a minor error of fact needs to be corrected. While referring to Dalip Singh, the youngest son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, who was a protégé of Queen Victoria, the author writes that Dalip was brought to England after Ranjit Singh was defeated by the British. Ranjit Singh never fought the British and the Sikh kingdom was annexed 10 years after his death.

Eyes wide shut

Love is holding hands in the street.

Marriage is holding arguments in

the street.

Love is dinner for two in your

favourite restaurant,

Marriage is a take-home packet.

Love is cuddling on a sofa,

Marriage is one of them sleeping

on a sofa.

Love is talking about having

children,

Marriage is talking about

getting away from children.

Love is going to bed early,

Marriage is going to sleep early.

Love is losing your appetite,

Marriage is losing your figure.

Love is sweet nothings in the ear,

Marriage is sweet nothing in

the bank.

TV has no place in love,

Marriage is a fight for the remote

control.

Conclusion:

“Love is blind, marriage is an

eye-opener!”

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)

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