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Shrabani Basu Talks Her Book: Victoria And Abdul

Piu Sur

Oxford Bookstore and Bloomsbury Publishing presented a creatively curated discussion around Victoria and Abdul − The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, with the author Shrabani Basu.

Shrabani has drawn from secrets closely guarded for more than a century making Victoria and Abdul an extraordinary and intimate history of the last years of the nineteenth-century English court and an unforgettable view into the passions of an aging queen. In the twilight years of her reign, after the devastating deaths of her two great loves − Prince Albert and John Brown − Queen Victoria meets tall and handsome Abdul Karim, a humble servant from Agra waiting tables at her Golden Jubilee. The two form an unlikely bond and within a year Abdul becomes a powerful figure at court: the Queen’s teacher, her counsel on Urdu and Indian Affairs, and a friend close to her heart. This marked the beginning of the most scandalous decade in Queen Victoria’s long reign. As the royal household resented this, Victoria and Abdul’s devotion grew in defiance.

The film is a close representation of the book and both are equably enjoyable as they unfold the story in their own forms. The book is very well-researched and the screenplay by Lee Hall has provided equal detailed attention to the period. Filmed with an eye for detail the story is visually as creative as the narrative.

Judi Dench who plays Queen Victoria in the film is well-suited to the character and keeps the audience engrossed in her metamorphosis. The costumes and the locales give the film a sense of the grandeur of the times. Having watched the film and read the book too it was a double treat for me.

The British Deputy High Commissioner Mr. Bruce Bucknell was Chief Guest on the occasion and spoke about the astonishing friendship on the sidelines of history, followed by an interaction between the author and Sujata Sen. A packed audience of readers, film buffs, historians and diplomats greatly enjoyed the session over steaming cups of Apeejay Typhoo Tea.

Shrabani introduced the book and explained questions asked by Sujata about the book and how it was made into a film. In her presentation she showed us slides about interesting hand-painted photographs she had found in Osborne House (the former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) a summer home and rural retreat. Prince Albert designed the house himself, in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Shrabani narrated interesting stories about how the letters of the Queen to Abdul Karim which had caused such a huge embarrassment for the establishment, were burnt after her death.

A history graduate from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and Masters from Delhi University, Shrabani is also the author of Curry: The Story of the Nation’s Favorite Dish; Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan.

Talking about the book and the film made Oxford Bookstore the ideal place as the author answered each and every question patiently. Established in 1919, Oxford Bookstore is the best equipped ‘base-camp’ for journeys of the mind like this. During the second week of January, Oxford will play host to the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, an event that all Kolkatans eagerly await each year.

Throughout the year Oxford Bookstore offers booklovers access to the very best in publishing and unique opportunities to meet authors and engage in stimulating discussions around books. Readers often spend hours at the Cha Bar, the tea boutique, sipping the best of teas, surrounded by books and friends. There are a few treats as sumptuous as a visit to Oxford Bookstore in Kolkata. Each time just as today, the charm of the place leaves you wanting for more. It makes Oxford much, much more than a Bookstore.