'The Munshi occupies very much the same position
as John Brown used to do.'
IN THE SUMMER OF her Golden Jubilee Year of 1887, the Queen acquired the first of her Indian servants. She was delighted with them, and in particular with the stout and agreeable Mohammed Bukhsh and the taller, more handsome and ingratiating 24-year-old Abdul Karim, both of whom kissed her feet when they were presented to her at Windsor. 1 She had them stand behind her chair at breakfast as she ate a boiled egg in a gold eggcup with a gold spoon. 2 In accordance with her detailed instructions, they wore 'dark blue dress' when waiting at breakfast out of doors, with 'any "Pageri" (Turban) and sash they like, only not the Gold Ones'. At dinner they were to be dressed in scarlet and gold in winter, white in summer. Their hands clasped in front of their sashes, they stood motionless, Abdul Karim 'looking so distinguished' with his black beard and dark eyes in striking contrast with the white of his turban. In fact, she was quite sure, he was distinguished in his way, not really a servant at all: his father, she had been told, was a surgeon-general in the Indian Army. She raised him from the rank of khitmagar (waiter) to munshi (secretary), although he was barely literate; and, instead of cooking curries for her as he had done at first, he began to give her lessons in Hindustani. All photographs of him handing dishes to the Queen were destroyed. 3
'I am learning a few words in Hindustani,' she wrote in her journal on 3 August. 'It is a great interest to me for both the language and the people, I have naturally never come into real contact with before.' The Munshi, as he came to be known, was a 'vy strict Master', though 'a