In 1887, eleven years after she became Empress of India, Queen Victoria decided to employ Indian servants. Abdul Karim was one of the first of these and his first duty was as a waiter at the Queen’s dining table. Two years later he became the Queen’s Munshi (teacher) and her official Indian Secretary. Apart from giving the Queen lessons in Urdu he instructed her in religion and social customs and looked after the red boxes containing the Queen’s official papers that were sent to and from Osborne every day.
Every January, during Queen Victoria’s widowhood, she spent Christmas and the New Year at Osborne. As part of the festive celebrations a stage was placed in the Durbar Room on which plays and tableaux vivants were performed by the royal family and the household. Abdul Karim was a participant in many of the tableaux and on occasion he would advise on the scenery and costumes, particularly if any of the tableaux had an eastern setting.
As a permanent member of Queen Victoria’s household, Abdul Karim travelled with the Queen wherever she went. During his early years of service at Osborne he occupied rooms in the male servants’ quarters close to the house. Later, after his promotion, Abdul and his family were given the use of Arthur Cottage that sits on the western edge of the Osborne estate. In addition, in order to make his daily periods of attendance on the Queen more convenient, he was given rooms in the Main Wing of the house that were alongside some of the Queen’s other attendants.
Queen Victoria’s attachment to Abdul caused turmoil in the royal household but she supported him against all opposition. After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, Abdul returned to his house, Karim Lodge, on his estate in Agra, India which the Queen had helped him to buy. He died there in 1909.