During the British Raj in India, there lived a clerk in Agra who assisted the Jail Superintendent John Tyler in organizing a trip for 34 prisoners and chose carpets and other artifacts for Queen Victoria of England, but what many do not know is that he loved the queen so dearly and admired her for who she was.
To show her gratitude and appreciation, the British government gifted a “mohar” or a symbolic coin to the queen, which was presented to her by Abdul Karim himself who travelled all the way to London for the occasion.
During the presentation of the “mohar,” Abdul was advised not to make eye contanct with the queen however, his fondness for her urged him to do so and he caught the queen’s eye, who too met his gaze creating an immediate attraction which grew into affection at a banquet ceremony thereafter when he kissed her feet, beginning a unique love story.
From then on, Abdul became the queen’s personal assistant, teaching her Urdu and travelling with her wherever she went; but he was no servant to her, in fact she grew fond of him now and allowed him to be a member of the royal household.
Though, this fatal attraction between the two was not accepted by the remainder of the royal household, who did everything to get rid of him including telling the queen that he is uneducated and therefore not qualified to assist her in any legal matters.
They succeeded temporarily when Abdul returned to India, only to find out that the queen herself had ordered him to go and bring back his wife, upon hearing the news that he was married.
However, one night, the royal household made her realize that she has made a grave mistake in appointing Abdul as her “Munshi” because he is Muslim, and the Muslims had issued a “fatwah” against her for using animal fat as grease on their ammunition.
She tells him to leave immediately but the lonely queen couldn’t seem to live with that guilt and ordered him to stay, serving her till her last breath, after which he is kicked out and sent back to India.
This unique relationship between the Queen of England and her Indian confidant is beautifully portrayed by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in the film Victoria & Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears and based on the book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant written by Shrabani Basu.
The film captures the true essence of the relationship which even today seems odd, yet both actors appropriately illustrate it.
Once returning to India, Abdul sat by the queen’s statue shown by the Taj Mahal, everyday and kept teaching her Urdu for nine years until he joined her in heaven.
His story though was not discovered until 2010 because all of his memories with Queen Victoria were destroyed in England and he had only managed to keep one picture of him and the queen in which one can see that the affection the two had for each other was beyond class, race and religion and most certainly one of a kind.