The closeness of Abdul Karim's relationship with Queen Victoria made many in the British royal court jealous - in this photo, he was criticised for looking directly at the camera rather than deferentially lowering his eyes.
The closeness of Abdul Karim's relationship with Queen Victoria made many in the British royal court jealous - in this photo, he was criticised for looking directly at the camera rather than deferentiShow more

Queen Victoria's love for an Indian clerk revealed

LONDON // A remarkable story of how an Indian brought to England to serve at a Buckingham Palace dinner became Queen Victoria's closest confidant is being unveiled in a new book.

The closeness of the 15-year relationship between the queen and her Muslim servant Abdul Karim, originally a clerk from Agra, so scandalised the royal court that, when Victoria died in 1901, her son, King Edward VII, ordered all records of the relationship, including correspondence and photographs, to be destroyed.

Karim might have remained a forgotten historical footnote had not the Kolkata-born author Shrabani Basu discovered, during research for a book she was writing on curry, that Victoria had ordered the dish to be on the royal menu daily during the final decade-and-a-half of her reign.

Intrigued, she started digging and, through a variety of sources, uncovered the "love story" of the Indian servant and the most powerful woman in the world.

Early last year, Basu, who now lives in London, published her book Victoria and Abdul in the subcontinent. Then, something remarkable happened: Begum Qamar Jehan, a frail 85-year-old and one of Abdul Karim's few remaining relatives, contacted her through the British Council and revealed she had Karim's diary and other documents.

This month, a revised version of Victoria and Abdul is being published with the fresh information from the diary in which Karim records his extraordinary rise during the decade between the queen's golden and diamond jubilees.

It was the golden jubilee in 1887 that had brought the 24-year-old Karim to London as "a gift from India". Victoria wanted two Indian waiters there to serve an Indian princess who was attending the celebrations.

Within a year, the tall, handsome Karim had become one of the most important and influential figures in court, much to the chagrin of both the government and members of the queen's own family.

At one stage, Lord Salisbury, the prime minister, intervened to stop the queen awarding Karim a knighthood. Instead, she made him Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire and, later, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

When Karim arrived at court, Victoria was still mourning the death four years earlier of John Brown, the Scottish gillie who had become the queen's favourite - and, probably, her lover - after the death in 1861 of her husband, Prince Albert.

"In letters to him (Karim) over the years, the queen signed letters to him as 'your loving mother' and 'your closest friend'," Basu told the BBC. "On some occasions, she even signed off her letters with a flurry of kisses - a highly unusual thing to do at that time.

"It was unquestionably a passionate relationship: a relationship which I think operated on many different layers in addition to the mother-and-son ties between a young Indian man and a woman who, at the time, was over 60 years old."

Basu doubts that the pair were actually lovers. Karim was married and the queen was very fond of his wife. The queen and Karim, however, did spark much gossip in royal circles by spending a night alone in the cottage in the Scottish Highlands where Victoria and Brown used to stay.

Within a year, of his arrival, Karim had become the queen's teacher or munshi, instructing her in Urdu, Hindi and Indian affairs.

He travelled with her on visits to monarchs abroad, was given homes on all the royal estates as well as in India, and had curry put on the daily menu at Windsor Castle.

Eventually, he became the queen's secretary, much to the displeasure of courtiers and Victoria's family. "If the royal household hated Brown, it absolutely abhorred Abdul Karim," Basu said.

"I am so very fond of him," Queen Victoria was recorded as telling her daughter-in-law, Louise, Duchess of Cornwall, in 1888. "He is so good and gentle and understanding … and is a real comfort to me."

Basu added: "The queen's munshi was named in court circulars, given the best positions at operas and banquets, allowed to play billiards in all the royal palaces and had a private horse carriage and footman."

He also had a profound influence on Victoria's attitude towards India, leading the queen to repeatedly berate successive viceroys in charge of the one-time colony over measures they should be taking to reduce communal tensions.

"At a time when the British empire was at its height, a young Muslim occupied a central position of influence over its sovereign," Basu said.

"It was a relationship that sent shockwaves through the royal court and was arguably a relationship far more scandalous than her much reported friendship with Mr Brown."

After the queen's death - when Victoria ordered that the Indian be given a place among the principal mourners at her funeral - Karim was promptly dismissed and sent back to India by King Edward.

Karim smuggled his diary out of the country and, upon his death in 1909, it was kept hidden by his nephew, Abdul Rashid. The family took it to Pakistan with them when they fled India 40 years later.

Now, for the first time, the 19th century diary has emerged into the public gaze.

"I was fortunate enough to have unearthed a truly remarkable love story," Basu said.

Sun jukebox

Rufus Thomas, Bear Cat (The Answer to Hound Dog) (1953)

This rip-off of Leiber/Stoller’s early rock stomper brought a lawsuit against Phillips and necessitated Presley’s premature sale to RCA.

Elvis Presley, Mystery Train (1955)

The B-side of Presley’s final single for Sun bops with a drummer-less groove.

Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, Folsom Prison Blues (1955)

Originally recorded for Sun, Cash’s signature tune was performed for inmates of the titular prison 13 years later.

Carl Perkins, Blue Suede Shoes (1956)

Within a month of Sun’s February release Elvis had his version out on RCA.

Roy Orbison, Ooby Dooby (1956)

An essential piece of irreverent juvenilia from Orbison.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Great Balls of Fire (1957)

Lee’s trademark anthem is one of the era’s best-remembered – and best-selling – songs.



Company Profile

Company name: myZoi
Started: 2021
Founders: Syed Ali, Christian Buchholz, Shanawaz Rouf, Arsalan Siddiqui, Nabid Hassan
Based: UAE
Number of staff: 37
Investment: Initial undisclosed funding from SC Ventures; second round of funding totalling $14 million from a consortium of SBI, a Japanese VC firm, and SC Venture

The specs: Taycan Turbo GT

Engine: Dual synchronous electric motors
Power: 1,108hp
Torque: 1,340Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic (front axle); two-speed transmission (rear axle)
Touring range: 488-560km
Price: From Dh928,400
On sale: Orders open

Non-oil trade

Non-oil trade between the UAE and Japan grew by 34 per cent over the past two years, according to data from the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre. 

In 10 years, it has reached a total of Dh524.4 billion. 

Cars topped the list of the top five commodities re-exported to Japan in 2022, with a value of Dh1.3 billion. 

Jewellery and ornaments amounted to Dh150 million while precious metal scraps amounted to Dh105 million. 

Raw aluminium was ranked first among the top five commodities exported to Japan. 

Top of the list of commodities imported from Japan in 2022 was cars, with a value of Dh20.08 billion.


7pm: Abu Dhabi - Conditions (PA) Dh 80,000 (Dirt) 1,600m

7.30pm: Dubai - Maiden (TB) Dh82,500 (D) 1,400m

8pm: Sharjah - Maiden (TB) Dh82,500 (D) 1,600m

8.30pm: Ajman - Handicap (TB) Dh82,500 (D) 2,200m

9pm: Umm Al Quwain - The Entisar - Listed (TB) Dh132,500 (D) 2,000m

9.30pm: Ras Al Khaimah - Rated Conditions (TB) Dh95,000 (D) 1,600m

10pm: Fujairah - Handicap (TB) Dh87,500 (D) 1,200m

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

The specs

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder and 3.6-litre 6-cylinder

Power: 220 and 280 horsepower

Torque: 350 and 360Nm

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Price: from Dh136,521 + VAT and Dh166,464 + VAT 

On sale: now


Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation 2 to 5
Rating: 5/5

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Tina Fey

Directed by: Pete Doctor

Rating: 4 stars

Islamic Architecture: A World History

Author: Eric Broug
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Pages: 336
Available: September

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices


Mercedes-Benz's MBUX digital voice assistant, Hey Mercedes, allows users to set up commands for:

• Navigation

• Calls

• In-car climate

• Ambient lighting

• Media controls

• Driver assistance

• General inquiries such as motor data, fuel consumption and next service schedule, and even funny questions

There's also a hidden feature: pressing and holding the voice command button on the steering wheel activates the voice assistant on a connected smartphone – Siri on Apple's iOS or Google Assistant on Android – enabling a user to command the car even without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

Fast X

Director: Louis Leterrier

Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jason Momoa, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Brie Larson, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron

Rating: 3/5

if you go

The flights

Direct flights from the UAE to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, are available with Air Arabia, ( Fly Dubai ( or Etihad ( from Dh1,200 return including taxes. The trek described here started from Jomson, but there are many other start and end point variations depending on how you tailor your trek. To get to Jomson from Kathmandu you must first fly to the lake-side resort town of Pokhara with either Buddha Air ( or Yeti Airlines ( Both charge around US$240 (Dh880) return. From Pokhara there are early morning flights to Jomson with Yeti Airlines or Simrik Airlines ( for around US$220 (Dh800) return. 

The trek

Restricted area permits (US$500 per person) are required for trekking in the Upper Mustang area. The challenging Meso Kanto pass between Tilcho Lake and Jomson should not be attempted by those without a lot of mountain experience and a good support team. An excellent trekking company with good knowledge of Upper Mustang, the Annaurpuna Circuit and Tilcho Lake area and who can help organise a version of the trek described here is the Nepal-UK run Snow Cat Travel ( Prices vary widely depending on accommodation types and the level of assistance required. 

Switching sides

Mahika Gaur is the latest Dubai-raised athlete to attain top honours with another country.

Velimir Stjepanovic (Serbia, swimming)
Born in Abu Dhabi and raised in Dubai, he finished sixth in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the 200m butterfly final.

Jonny Macdonald (Scotland, rugby union)
Brought up in Abu Dhabi and represented the region in international rugby. When the Arabian Gulf team was broken up into its constituent nations, he opted to play for Scotland instead, and went to the Hong Kong Sevens.

Sophie Shams (England, rugby union)
The daughter of an English mother and Emirati father, Shams excelled at rugby in Dubai, then after attending university in the UK played for England at sevens.


Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Roll of honour 2019-2020

Dubai Rugby Sevens
Winners: Dubai Hurricanes
Runners up: Bahrain

West Asia Premiership
Winners: Bahrain
Runners up: UAE Premiership

UAE Premiership
}Winners: Dubai Exiles
Runners up: Dubai Hurricanes

UAE Division One
Winners: Abu Dhabi Saracens
Runners up: Dubai Hurricanes II

UAE Division Two
Winners: Barrelhouse
Runners up: RAK Rugby


6.30pm: Maiden Dh165,000 (Dirt) 1,200m

Winner: Barack Beach, Richard Mullen (jockey), Satish Seemar (trainer).

7.05pm: Handicap Dh170,000 (D) 1,200m

Winner: Way Of Wisdom, Connor Beasley, Satish Seemar.

7.40pm: Maiden Dh165,000 (D) 1,900m

Winner: Woodditton, Connor Beasley, Ahmad bin Harmash.

8.15pm: Handicap Dh185,000 (D) 2,000m

Winner: Secret Trade, Sandro Paiva, Ali Rashid Al Raihe.

8.50pm: Handicap Dh185,000 (D) 1,600m

Winner: Mark Of Approval, Antonio Fresu, Mahmood Hussain.

9.25pm: Handicap Dh165,000 (D) 2,000m

Winner: Tradesman, Pat Dobbs, Doug Watson.

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE


'My Son'

Director: Christian Carion

Starring: James McAvoy, Claire Foy, Tom Cullen, Gary Lewis

Rating: 2/5