Love sees what eyes cannot: Victoria & Abdul

7 01 2020
Victoria and Abdul

Those who say that love is blind ignore its power to see what naked eyes cannot. “Victoria and Abdul,” a film of rare artistry based on the true life story of queen Victoria’s blind love for a poor Indian servant, Abdul Karim who, in his turn, saw in her royal heart, a thirst for warmth and affection unquenched by the fawning, kowtowing mass of royal maids and servants.

It was a story of love at first sight. “I think the tall one is terribly handsome,” the queen quipped to a concierge the day after the tall and handsome Abdul and his shorter companion were ushered into her presence to present her with a gift of a gold coin from India.

Things moved quickly as the queen requested that he become her personal attendant much to the consternation of the uppity, scheming, gossipy and crafty royal household.

Consternation turned to anger when the queen made him part of the royal household, appointing him as her personal “munshi” or teacher, and took him in her travels, to banquets, to operas, and even allowed him assist her with the boxes of government papers.  

Anger turned apoplectic when the queen offered him the knighthood and palace gossip spindles furiously wove tapestries of rumors that the queen was unhinged and in love with the munshi.

But the tapestries were shredded into heaps of jumbled rags, when the queen excitedly ordered Abdul to bring his wife to England after learning that he was married. When she arrived, the queen took great pleasure meeting and entertaining her. She even sent her personal physician to assist Abdul and his wife with their difficulty in having children.

What could have drawn the most powerful woman in the world to this lowly Indian prison officer?

Love sees what the naked eyes cannot. Abdul enchanted the queen. While others treated her with great fear and difference, he on the other hand treated her like a person, unafraid; he looked at her, and talked to her like a son would talk to his mother.

Surprised, perhaps even relieved, Queen Victoria responded like a mother and loved him like a son and even more.

Abdul was devoted to Queen Victoria in life and even more in death. After her death, he returned to India and had a life-size stature of her erected at the precincts of the TajMahal, where he would go daily to pray and meditate on the life this great woman.  He wore on his breast a gold locket with her face on it, that she gave him with great devotion even though his Muslim religion forbade graven images.

Abdul actions should is hardly surprising, it is an action born out of gratitude to one who loved him more than a son, in spite of his low birth. The most powerful and feared woman in the world, revered by kings and princes yet stoops to his love and elevating him to her equal.

In many respects his actions repudiates those who disparage devotion to loved ones after their death. Catholics, for example have been knocked around for their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, whom they regard as their mother. Yet it is a most natural human reaction. Gratitude comes naturally to those favored by majesty.

When Abdul stooped down and kissed the foot of the queen Victoria at the garden party in one of the early scenes of the movie, he wasn’t in effect worshipping her as one would worship God. Rather, he was reacting in the expected way as anyone would, overwhelmed with gratitude, standing in the someone would react who feels that for some unknown reasons he is the chosen recipient of majestic benevolence despite his low status; a servant love by a queen; a lowly Indian prison officer adored by the Empress of India.

True, it might have been a desperate love between a scheming Indian taking advantage of a bored, desperate and tired old queen whose husband had died many years ago, yet there is no denying its beauty and charm.

Mary was a simple village girl, unaccustomed to the pump and pageantry,  wielded no earthly power while she was on earth–except of course the power of a loving mother whose son is Jesus, King of the universe and on this account, she is far superior to the queen of England.

And from this motherhood draws all her authority, power and grace Christians call her mother because her blessed womb gave them their savior.

Her powers are undiminished by death, but have everlasting potency now that she is heaven body and soul next to her son, Jesus Christ.

Queen Victoria on the other hand was aware that death would end all her powers and render her incapable of protecting Abdul. Thus at the twilight of her life, she implored Abdul to flee England, because “the vultures are already circling” Abdul insisted and remained with her till the end, and faced the spiteful fury of her son, Edward, who dealt mercilessly with him, even before the dust had settled over his mother’s grave. Yet he counted it all as gain, for having been loved by such a mighty one is greater than the suffering endured by the hatred of the world put together, and saw his life as defined by the short span spent by her side.

Many thanks to the casts and director of this movie, and the eagle eyed journalist who uncovered the delightful story, so nearly scrubbed off the annals history by those whose ox were gored by it. 

Chinwuba Iyizoba








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