1887: A Love Story?

Perhaps, Princess Diana was not the only ‘lonely’ person in British Royal family. Of course, the Princess of Wales was never keen to lead her life by the rules of the royal family and she wanted to be free, but her basic desire to be free and be herself proved to be a very costly affair.
When she was with her ‘friend’ Dodi al-Fayed on that fateful evening in Paris (August 31, 1997) then she was just a simple woman seeking a simple pleasure of life through a companionship of a friend. However, for the media, she was the Princes of Wales having an affair. It made a very juicy gossip story.
Diana had no idea that lenses of the paparazzi were waiting for her. Paparazzi were well aware of the fact that a photograph of Diana with a ‘new friend and a possible love interest’ could add more fuel to the fire surrounding her arguably controversial life. The princess wanted to escape from the paparazzi because she wanted no more gossip about her life. However, her desire to be free remained unfulfilled and she met with a fatal accident while attempting to run away from the independent photographers.

Long before Diana made it to the gossip columns, it was Queen Victoria who was considered as loose cannon of the British Royal family. She, too, wanted some companionship to beat the loneliness that had engulfed her life. The lonely queen’s attempt to find a ‘friend’ triggered another gossip about the royal family.
The stories of Princess Diana and Queen Victoria run a similar course – an overbearing sense of the loneliness despite being on the seat of power, the conflicting demands of duty and personal need to be free. The only difference is that Queen Victoria, unlike Princess Diana, rose above the pressures triumphantly to perform her duty and serve the nation, confirming that she was a remarkable individual. She was able to overcome her personal feelings in the larger interest of her nation.

Hafiz Mohammed Abdul Karim was just 24 when he first met 68-year-old Queen Victoria.
Karim, who arrived in England as an attendant of the queen, served Victoria during the final fifteen years of her reign. Insiders said that the “lonely” queen fell in love with the 24-year-old Indian. From an attendant, he became one of the most important royal officials. It is said that he was virtually the empress’ closest person.
Karim was born in British India in 1863. The queen asked the British government to send two Indian attendants to the Buckingham Palace in 1887 when Britain was celebrating the 50th anniversary of her reign. The British government selected Karim and Mohammed Buksh for the job. Although both Karim and Buksh were obedient, ‘tall, dark and handsome’ Karim grabbed the queen’s attention. He kissed the queen’s feet when he first met her.

Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert died in 1861. After his death, Victoria, the mother of nine, became lonely. Even the queen started maintaining a distance with her children. At that time, her only companion was John Brown – a senior Buckingham official. Karim entered the palace four years after Brown’s death. Within a few months, he became the queen’s Urdu teacher and Victoria started calling him ‘Munshi’. The queen also allowed Karim to keep a sword with him.
Unfortunately, the British Royal family destroyed all documents related to the Victoria-Karim relationship in 1900. More than hundred years after Karim’s death, journalist Srabani Bose discovered his diary in Karachi. While one branch of Karim’s family lives in northern Indian city of Agra, another branch lives in Pakistan.

The rare diary reveals that Karim used to write many letters to the queen everyday and also received letters from Victoria. In fact, the queen learned Urdu, Hindi and Persian languages from him. On the other hand, Victoria appointed an English teacher for her Munshi. They even visited many European countries together. Due to his closeness with the queen, many members of the royal family envied Karim.

However, Queen Victoria always protected the Munshi from her family members. She asked him to bring his wife from India. Before that, the old queen spent several nights with Karim on the mountain in Balmoral, Scotland. Victoria, who had spent times with Brown at the same place, thought that she would never visit the place again after his death. But, she changed her mind only because of Karim.
Although Victoria claimed that she considered Karim as her son, her behaviour was completely different. In her recommendation, Karim was honoured with the Royal CVO award. She also asked the then viceroy of India to allot land in Agra for her Munshi. Perhaps, the queen realised what would happen with Karim in her absence.

Karim returned to England in November 1900 after spending a few months in India. At that time, the queen was on deathbed. Within three months, Victoria died (on January 22, 1901). Later, her son Seventh Edward fired Karim and also ordered the confiscation and destruction of the Munshi’s correspondence with the queen. Karim subsequently lived quietly near Agra, on the estate that Victoria had arranged for him, until his death in April 1909 at the age of 46.
Even after his death, Seventh Edward sent British officials to Karim’s Agra residence to take away important documents related to the queen. But, then British Viceroy to India Lord Minto intervened and kept some documents with him. He recovered the diary that Karim had managed to bring with him from England.

After the death of childless Karim, his nephews inherited his property. One of their branches, along with the diary, went to Karachi after the partition of India. Later, the Indian government acquired Karim’s palace in Agra and used in public welfare. Queen Victoria’s Munshi is resting in peace in a cemetery in Agra.
According to historians, Karim made Queen Victoria sympathetic to the Muslim population. They are of the opinion that Victoria and Karim were very close to each other, but the Indian attendant was not a part of her political decision-making process. He was the queen’s ‘best friend’ (and would remain so forever).

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