Victoria and Abdul, written by Shrabani Basu has created a rage in the world of literature. Now a major motion picture, starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, the movie has won the hearts of the people; but more so it is the book which has attracted the many. Abdul was a young Indian servant, ‘gifted’ by the British jailor to the Queen as one of her Jubilee Presents. Little did anyone fathom of the extraordinary relationship this mere servant would have with the Empress of India in the days to come. You can read the full review of the book Victoria and Abdul, published by Bloomsbury here.
Two days ago when I received an e-mail from Bloomsbury that Shrabani Basu would be launching Victoria and Abdul in Kolkata, it did not take me a second to decide that I would be joining the event. So, there I was at Oxford Bookstores today, at 5 pm, watching the master story-teller unveil the book herself. The session started with a trailer of the movie and was followed by a short presentation by Basu, on the storyline and her research. The session was moderated by Sujata Sen, CEO Future Hope and the Chief Guest for the evening was Mr. Bruce Bucknell, British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata.
Basu was not only the author of the book but had played the role of a consultant throughout the movie. The tremendous amount of research that she conducted to bring alive the story of an era gone by is indeed commendable. She went through the length and breadth of the UK and India to discover journals, memoirs, diaries, letters and anything that would help her in authenticating the novel. Given that Edward the Seventh had actually burnt down all letters exchanged between Victoria and Abdul, it was indeed tough to find authentic material to substantiate the research and put it to paper. In fact, the research alone took around four years.
Nevertheless, all the hard work has indeed paid off when the world has witnessed the story of a vibrant character like Abdul, who was completely wiped off from the map of the world. The story also highlights the character of the Queen. She was opined to be strict, bossy, ruthless and ugly. But in fact, because of Shrabani Basu, the world now knows her as a lonely, broken woman behind the veil of utmost power who was tormented by loneliness, monarchial pressures, and a broken family. Having remained a widow for over four decades she found solace in her friendship with Abdul. The young servant, on the other hand, was proud, arrogant, and maybe a bit bossy but was equally humble and caring. In fact, he returned to India as a broken man after the Queen’s death and maintained a dignified silence on the whole issue till his own death.
The evening saw a holistic discussion of the book and the floor was open to the audience for a Q/A session. One question which stayed imprinted on my mind was asked by Sujata Sen, “At which moment did the book become a film?“. To which the author promptly replied, ” As soon as it was published.” As always, an eventful session was followed by the book signing session and what better than getting the book signed by her!
For me, it was a wonderful evening. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for inviting and giving me an opportunity to be a part of something so amazing. Further, such events taking place in Kolkata would be a great answer to those critics so often comment that ‘all good events take place in other cities‘. Moreover, the chance to meet my fellow bookstagrammers- Aditi, Mridula, Aritri, Chandrima, Priya was something that I would thoroughly cherish.