02 March, 2021

The Munshi Of Bartania

Victoria’s reliance on Abdul Karim and his misuse of it is seen through the web of a much-mythologised age

The Munshi Of Bartania

Queen Victoria never visited India. But more than any other monarch she cast a mystical spell over her distant subjects. The Empress of India or the ‘Maharani’, as she was popularly referred to, became an enduring symbol of the British Empire in India. Regardless of the subsequent turmoil that resulted in the eclipse of the Raj just 46 years after her death, the reign of the ‘Old Queen’ invariably invoked wistful nostalgia. The Queen’s Proclamation of 1858 came to symbolise just government and the ‘Queen’s peace’ was a shorthand for prolonged stability—the respite India yearned for after a century of turbulence.

Six decades after Independence, invoking the romance of the Victorian age isn’t fashionable—neither in Britain nor in India. Even ‘Victorian values’, which once denoted thrift, enterprise and restraint, has been recast as privilege, snobbery, even racism. This rewriting of history may well be a commentary on Britain’s current fads but it also...

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