Queen Victoria’s Love Story With Urdu

The British Raj in India is packed with numerous stories and interesting incidents. One of the famous events that took place during that era was when Queen Victoria, the ruler of the United Kingdom, came into the limelight for her inclination towards learning the Urdu language.

Queen Victoria

Although she was bestowed with the title of Empress of India, she never visited the country because of the long sea journey and her old age. However, the Queen was very much interested in getting acquainted with the Indian culture. Eventually, the beautiful language of Urdu caught the Queen's attention. But who would teach her an Indian language in her homeland?


Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria learning Urdu from Abdul Karim

After the death of her loyal servant and confidant John Brown, Queen Victoria called for servants from India. While meeting the Indian servants, she met Abdul Karim, a 24 year old six- feet- tall good-looking young man, robed in a red tunic, with a colorful turban and an exotic waist-band. Who knew that this meeting was the beginning of an extraordinary friendship!


Abdul Karim had arrived in England to deliver a seal to mark and rejoice Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of her accession in 1887. His stay became longer when the Queen requested him to teach her Urdu. However, the task was not that simple. Abdul Karim and Queen Victoria did not speak a common language which became a barrier to smooth communication. Therefore, she decided that Karim should start taking lessons in English for a better exchange of information. She doubled up Karim’s English lessons as he proved to be a fast learner.


Eventually, their lessons began and Abdul rose from the Queen’s servant to her teacher. Soon, the Queen was not only able to speak to him in his native language but also started composing her diary entries in Urdu, which she called her Hindustani Journal. In fact, she completed 13 volumes of her Hindustani Journals successfully.

Queen-Victoria
Notes from Queen Victoria's diary (Image Source: Dawn)

Queen Victoria in return showered Abdul with gifts, titles, and honors. She awarded him the title of Munshi Hafiz Abdul Karim. The queen even stipulated that Abdul should be given the honor of being among the principal mourners at her funeral in Windsor Castle. Karim was later recognized as a "gift from India" for Queen Victoria.


Munshi Abdul also enlightened the Queen about India in addition to teaching her Urdu. Queen Victoria not only got to know about the Indian language and food but also heard the ordinary Indian life from Karim. Abdul Karim had a deep influence on Queen Victoria's life. He became one of her most trusted men who not only taught her the Urdu language but also made her love curries which later became a daily item on the royal menu.


This teacher-student relationship of Abdul Karim and Queen Victoria continued for about 13 years until the queen’s death in 1901.


The 'MUNSHIMANIA'

It can be said that Karim’s rapid rise and relationship with Queen Victoria sparked jealousy not only among the other Indian servants but also among the members of the Queen’s Household.


The Queen’s fascination with Abdul Karim was assumed to be “disgraceful”. They started describing Abdul Karim as a disgusting and unpleasant person. Afterward, in the year 1897, which was the Queen’s diamond jubilee year, the court went into a complete crisis over her relationship with Munshi Abdul Karim. They started calling it “Munshimania” and the “Year of the Munshi”. Queen Victoria was nearly dethroned on the grounds of insanity due to which she went into a rage and banned such irrelevant conversations.


The interesting story of the Queen and the Indian servant also grasped the attention of film makers and novelists. Check out this trailer of the movie Victoria and Abdul released in 2017.

Pratha Kumar Prashant

Author

Kumar Prashant

Pratha Content Writing Intern