খ্যাতিমান লেখক, সাংবাদিক, মিডিয়া ব্যক্তিত্ব সৈয়দ নিয়াজ আহমাদ নারী ম্যাগাজিনে নিয়মিত লেখা শুরু করেছেন। গত মাসে আমরা ঘোষণা দিয়েছিলাম, উনি নারীর জন্য প্রতি মাসে নিয়মিত লিখবেন। তারই ধারা বাহিকতায় গত মাসে সৈয়দ নিয়াজ আহমাদ এর প্রথম লেখা প্রকাশিত হয়েছিলো। আজ প্রকাশিত হলো দ্বিতীয় লেখা।
নারীর পাঠকদের জন্য আমরা হুবহু ইংরেজিতে লেখা উনার লেখাটি প্রকাশ করলাম। আমরা আগেই বলেছি, পাঠকের চাহিদা অনুযায়ী লেখকের লেখা আমরা অনুবাদ করতে কার্পন্য করবোনা।
এই লেখাটি একটি তথ্য সমৃদ্ধ ও ইতিহাস নির্ভর ঘটনাবহুল এক বই রয়াল লাভ ষ্টোরি ? ভিকোটরিয়া এন্ড আব্দুল নামের গ্রন্থের সুন্দর এক বিশ্লেষণ করেছেন লেখক। আমরা এটাকে সমালোচনা শব্দের মধ্যে আবদ্ধ করতে চাইনা। বরং লেখকের আলোচনার মাধ্যমে পাঠক যাতে মূল বইটি পাঠে আরো বেশী উদবুদ্ধ হন।
ভিক্টোরিয়া এন্ড আব্দুল গ্রন্থের সুন্দর এই আলোচনা লেখককে করে তুলেছে এক অনবদ্য রূপকার হিসেবে। পাঠক লেখাটি পড়েই অবগত হতে পারবেন আরো ব্যাপকভাবে—বিভাগীয় সম্পাদক।
Syed Neaz Ahmad:
Basu is a London-based author, journalist and correspondent for two Calcutta newspapers: The Ananda Bazar Patrika and The Telegraph. She has authored “Curry: The Story of the Nation’s Favourite Dish” and the much acclaimed biography, “SpyPrincess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan.”
“Victoria & Abdul,” her latest work, took three years of intense research work and travels to Balmoral, Agra, Isle of Wight and Windsor. It has received commendable reviews from historians and general readers in the English-speaking world. Basu was recently in Karachi — as a guest of Oxford University Press — where OUP is planning to publish an edition. A translation into Marathi and Indonesian Bhasa has been commissioned. Basu, it is rumoured, has even received requests from film makers for permission to turn this story of Empire and intrigue into a blockbuster film. However, she declined to confirm if she has agreed to any such request.
The 224-page book describes how a very special relationship develops between the ruler and the ruled. “Victoria & Abdul” is not only an interesting description of a ruler’s intimate relationship with her servant, but it also reveals some of the lesser-known secrets of the rules of the Raj.
The blurb of the book describes Queen Victoria’s Indian confidant: “The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly rose to become a personal attendant to the Empress of India.”
Within a year, Abdul Karim 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 gillie, the Queen had at last found his replacement. But, her intense controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household.”
Not many narratives since Shakespeare can lay claim to such a rich cast: Victoria Queen of England & Empress of India, the Royal Consort Prince Albert, princesses, viceroys, secretaries of state, prime ministers, maharajas, maharanis, nabobs, lords, ladies and not forgetting the shadow-like characters known as royal attendants. However, like in all narratives in “Victoria & Abdul,” a dark horse overshadows all the other characters. And, like a Shakespearean tragedy, the real-life story of this intense relationship — which some have dubbed as the ‘romance’ of the Empire — ends on a sad note.
Like Queen Victoria’s bumpy private life, the affairs of the state did not offer her a smooth ride either. Queen Victoria (1837-1901) oversaw England at the height of its overseas power. ‘British Empire was established in her reign and it reached its greatest expanse under her.’
The Queen’s marriage to Francis Albert Charles Augustus Emmanuel a.k.a Prince Albert, did bring her joy and nine children. The young Queen expressed her preference for Albert over other suitors: “[Albert] is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful.”
Tragically, however, Prince Albert died at the early age of 42, which made the Queen plunge into a deep mourning that lasted for the rest of her life. Luckily, she was able to find solace in Abdul Karim.
Mohammed Abdul Karim appears to have the most modest of backgrounds in the “Dramatis Personae.” Son of a hakeem (alternative medicine practitioner) at Agra Central Jail, he received formal education, became a Hafize Qur’an and was appointed a clerk’s assistant. So far, nothing appears extraordinary in the career of this very ordinary young man. But, it was not at their first meeting during the Jubilee celebrations when the tall, dark and handsome Abdul Karim had impressed the Queen.
The Golden Jubilee celebrations of her reign marked a turning point in Queen Victoria’s lonely life. “The warmth of her people had cheered her, but they had gone home to their loved ones and she had returned alone to her Castle, her maids and her Household. She missed her husband and her Highland servant, John Brown, both men the Queen had loved and buried.”
The next morning, the Queen was presented with her Jubilee presents from India from Abdul Karim and Mohammed Buksh — a pair of gold bracelets (kadas), which were presented to the Queen by Agra Central Jail superintendent John Tyler. The presents were suggested, prepared and selected by Abdul Karim, and the Queen had expressed her delight at the gift.
Basu describes their first meeting as follows: “The Queen was delighted . . . Both servants approached her slowly, their eyes lowered to the gaze at the ground as they had been instructed to do. Then with a deep bow, Karim and Buksh bent down to kiss the Queen’s feet. As he rose, young Karim’s dark eyes fleetingly met the Queen’s gaze. Suddenly Victoria no longer felt tired.”
Abdul Karim’s close relationship soon became the cause of envy for others. “To the Royal Household, the Queen’s attitude…began to gradually remind them of her relationship with John Brown” who become a close friend of the Queen and Prince Albert.”
Basu devotes an entire chapter on the love, awe, admiration and suspicion of Queen Victoria’s Indian manservant, aptly called Munshimania: “The Queen’s diamond Jubilee was fast approaching. It would be ten years since Abdul Karim had joined her Court. The Queen remembered the first day he had presented himself, a shy youth of twenty-three with a serious expression on his face. He had grown now portly, the wealth and fine living in the Queen’s palaces adding to his girth. The Queen gazed at the photograph of Karim hanging in her Dressing Room in Osborne House…it hung just below a photograph of John Brown and was placed near her dressing table. Above her bed was a photograph of her beloved Albert. The Queen had chosen to be surrounded by the memories of the men who had been closest to her in life.”
Yet, intrigue, conspiracies and jealousy of royal proportions were rife behind the scene. In the Queen, Abdul Karim had found a friend in a very high place, but those around him did not share Victoria’s feelings. The 1857 “mutiny” had not unnerved the Queen, but her own Household had almost revolted at the rapid ‘promotions’ Abdul Karim had achieved – undeservedly granted as some saw – in a comparatively short time.
Abdul Karim appears a simple person who through his hard work, devotion, intelligence and dedication caught the lonely Queen’s attention. His good luck and his good looks seem to have played a major role in his meteoric rise and tragic fall from grace when he returned to Agra to spend his last days in affluence. Some eight years after his return to India, Abdul Karim died at the age of 46. Was he too tired of life and depressed? We will never know.
“Victoria & Abdul” is a well-written and well-researched work of historical proportions. It’s as racy as a travelogue, as gripping as a thriller and as well documented as a reference book. However, one feels that all has yet to be revealed of this intimate royal-commoner relationship. Or, perhaps like the life and death of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, we’ll never get to know.