Queen Victoria tasted her first authentic Indian curry in 1887 when her servant Abdul Karim cooked it for her. She pronounced the curry to be ‘excellent’ and then ordered that curries would be cooked in the Royal kitchens every day. For thirteen years till her death, curries were always cooked and served at luncheon. Victoria’s favourite curries were chicken curry and daal.
She longed to eat a mango from India, but the sea journey was so long, they were always rotten by the time they reached her.
Victoria wanted to learn Urdu or Hindustani as it was known, and requested Abdul Karim to teach her. He was soon promoted to be her teacher or Munshi. She took her lessons every day, never missing one, even if she was travelling. Towards the end of her life, she could write half a page of fluent Urdu.
She completed 13 volumes of her Hindustani Journals, one for each year that she spent in the company of Abdul Karim. Her last entry, two months before her death, was in November 1900. Victoria died in January 1901.
Victoria was given the title of Empress of India in 1876 by her Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. She was delighted with the title and longed to visit India, but the sea journey was too long and she never did. She once wrote that she would give anything to see the Taj Mahal.
She sent artists to India to paint the ordinary people and artisans, so she could understand the real India.
In 1897, the year of her Diamond Jubilee, the court was in a complete crisis over her relationship with Abdul Karim, her Munshi. The Household described it as the ‘Year of the Munshi’ and referred to it as ‘Munshimania’.
Her doctor, Sir James Reid, told the Queen that people in high places said that she was not sane, and that the time would come when he would have to step forward and say so. He said he had a long conversation with the Prince of Wales, who was very serious on the subject and had made up his mind to come forward if necessary, as it affected him and the throne.
The Queen flew into a rage, summoned Reid and said he had behaved ‘disgracefully’.
Victoria had given written instructions to her doctor, Sir James Reid, about the arrangements for her funeral. One of these was that she would wear the ring that John Brown had given her in 1875, and which she had always worn after his death. She also wanted two other items to be buried with her. These were a photograph of John Brown and a lock of his hair in a case. The doctor carried out her last wishes and placed these objects in her hand, wrapped in tissue. He then covered these with flowers so that the rest of the family could not see them.
By Shrabani Basu