Historian says love affair was mutual…
By Tasha Mathur
QUEEN VICTORIA, Empress of India, remains a figure of deep fascination and inquiry not just for Britain – which is marking her 200th anniversary of her birth – but for India and Indians too, argues historian Miles Taylor.
The history professor at York University, says her impact on India and Indians themselves has never been properly assessed and his book, ‘Empress: Queen Victoria and India’, published in August, makes the case.
Professor Taylor will discuss his work with fellow historian and journalist Shrabani Basu at the ZEEJLF festival at the British Library tomorrow (Saturday, June 15 at 3pm – see full listing below).
www.asianculturevutlure.com is sponsoring the session, Mallika Victoria: Empress of India, with Vayu Naidu moderating.
Basu’s own book ‘Victoria and Abdul’ about Queen Victoria and her munshi (servant) was turned into a film by Stephen Frears and starred Dame Judi Dench and Bollywood heartthrob Faizal Ali.
In addition, there is currently an exhibition on Queen Victoria marking her 200th anniversary at Kensington Palace.
Taylor told www.asianculturevulture.com: “’Empress’ takes Queen Victoria seriously – her ideas and her statecraft in relation to India, and the personal friendships and contacts that she made with Indians.
“The book also reveals just how deep knowledge of, fascination with, and loyalty towards Queen Victoria was amongst Indian people.”
Most of Miles’s fieldwork came from Indian libraries and state archives while he said his most interesting research came from the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle.
As a historian, the book, published last year, was inspired by Taylor’s own fascination with the British Empire.
“I have always been interested in the effects of Empire on British politics and society and how the British acquired an empire, but always denied being imperialist. Using the monarchy as a case-study, I set out to show just how far the Raj penetrated into metropolitan culture,” Taylor explained.
Queen Victoria was given the title of ‘Empress of India’ by the British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli in 1876 and held the title for 24 years. Despite never visiting India, Queen Victoria took Urdu lessons, surrounded herself with Indian artefacts and even added an Indian lace element to one of her iconic, black, mourning outfits.
And despite the numerous books, discussions and debates on Queen Victoria as ‘Empress of India’, the conversations show no indication of dying down.
“There is always a lot of media attention, but it tends to focus obsessively on either Abdul Karim (the munshi), or the Maharaja Duleep Singh (the last of the Sikh kings who was spirited away from Punjab as a child, after the British gained control of the region),” said Miles.
“I hope that my book will make people realise that the Queen’s preoccupation with India, and India’s engagement with the Queen was more enduring and pervasive than they might think.”
And with such in-depth research required, how long did it take Miles to write the book?
“Don’t ask!” Miles replied. “I hope people read it more quickly than I wrote it!”
“Let the conversations continue!” said Taylor.
ZEE JLF at British Library is an international edition of the now 11-year-old Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, billed as the ‘greatest literary show on earth’ and quite easily the biggest literature event of its type anywhere in the world with an audience of around 400,000 for the five-day literary extravaganza in Rajasthan, India.
The ZEEJLF London edition is now in its 6th year, and is based at the British Library, having started at the Southbank Centre and originally being part of the now discontinued Alchemy Festival there.
Tickets for ZEELF at the British Library are still available, including weekend passes, please click on the banner below or the home page banner…
Mallika Victoria: Empress of India – Saturday, June 15, 3pm Mughal Courtyard, part of ZEEJLF at the British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB
The ZEEJLF Festival at the British Library begins today at 5.15pm for further details, see below and navigate – what’s happening today –
Headline amended June 15