Mallika and her munshi

Mallika and her munshi

 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 which have become proverbial were: “We are not amused”.

In her later years her character underwent a remarkable change. She seemed fed up with the stiff upper-lip behaviour of the England aristocracy and the upper classes from which court officials and ladies-in-waiting were drawn. She did not like living in Buckingham Palace and preferred staying in other royal residences like Balmoral or Windsor. She felt more at home with servants drawn 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. 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 brocated turbans, beards, shervanis and chooridars. 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 Munshi to 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 a Knighthood. There were loud protests and she had to withdraw her proposal. Instead she conferred the CIE on him with a new honour RVO (Royal Victorian Order) and honoured his father who was Hakeem in Agra Prison Hospital with the title of Khan Bahadur. The racial pettiness of the Whites can be gauged from an incident. One year Karim sent a Christmas Card to Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India. Instead of thanking him Elgin questioned the audacity of a small time Munshi by sending him a greeting card.

As could be anticipated, Karim Ali’s halcyon days came to an end with the death of the Queen. He was allowed to see her dead body but not allowed 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 in which the late Queen had written anything. They tore it all and threw it in the fire. They searched every corner of the cottage to make sure no evidence of relationship was left.

A beaten and broken hearted Karim returned to Agra. He died in 1846 and was buried in a remote Muslim graveyard beside the graves of his father and wife.

Sharbani Basu who had earlier written a very moving biography of Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian-British spy, who was shot by the Nazi Gestapo and is being made into a film by Lord Meghnad and Kishwar Desai, has done an equally commendable job digging out material to write ‘Victoria and Abdul — the true story of the Queen’s closest Confidant’. It is totally absorbing.

A minor error of fact needs to be corrected. While referring to Dalip Singh, youngest son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh who was a protege 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.

Love and marriage

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 nothing in the ear.
Marriage is sweet nothing in the bank.
TV has no place in love
Marriage is a fight for remote control.
“Love is blind, Marriage is an eye opener!”
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)