SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Talk: Shrabani Basu on her book 'Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of The Queen's Closest Confidant'

Shrabani Basu

Date: 23 November 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 23 November 2017Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Talk

Victoria and Abdul Image

Originally published in 2010, Victoria & Abdul by Shrabani Basu told for the first time, the true story of how a young Indian Muslim servant came to play a central role at the heart of the empire, and reveals a tender relationship between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen. The book has now been adapted for the screen and will be released as a major feature film on September 15th starring Dame Judi Dench.

The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait tables during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen’s teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish ghillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household.

Shrabani Basu reveals a fascinating hidden story of Empire based on the lost diary of Abdul Karim and the letters and journals of Queen Victoria, including her previously untranslated Hindustani journals and other never-before-seen official Royal papers.

Through their relationship, which rocked the monarchy, we also see an alternative side to Queen Victoria, not only warm and caring but progressive, passionate and vehemently opposed to racism at Court. While the household plotted against Karim, the Queen defended her ‘Dear Abdul’ to the last.  After her death, the Household came down hard on the Munshi. All his letters from the Queen were destroyed and the family was sent packing back to India by the new King.

Shrabani has been closely involved in the production of the new film which also stars Simon Callow, Michael Gambon and Eddie Izzard and is directed by Stephen Frears. It is a timely moment to tell Victoria and Abdul’s story during the UK-India year of culture 2017.

About The Author:

Shrabani Basu is an author, journalist and historian. She has also written Curry: The Story of the Nation’s Favourite Dish (2003) and Spy Princess: the Life of Noor Inayat Khan (2006). Born in Calcutta she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.  She moved to London in 1987 and has since then been the correspondent of Calcutta-based newspaper Ananda Bazar Patrika and The Telegraph.  She has always combined her love of journalism with her love of history and all her books have evolved from her observations about the shared histories of India and Britain. She has appeared regularly in the media including on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

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