Victoria & Abdul

The story of the unlikely friendship between an aged English Queen and her Indian servant starring Judy Dench and Ali Fazal. Based on historical fact, this friendship is especially revealing following recent discovery of the servant’s diary.

Without the diary entries and almost complete lack of written correspondence provide an opportunity for the movie to complete the story. Edward Vll’s destroying this written evidence and banishing Abdul and his family from England ensure the final tragic twist in the drama.

Abdul, employed as a young servant and later as Queen Victoria’s confidant and language teacher, holds an increasingly special role in the life of the monarch. What’s clever is the way this innocent relationship shows up the power hungry machinations of the royal court and those jostling for power. Without this dramatic ‘device’ it would conceivably take the duration of an entire feature to play out their drama.

But is Abdul Karima a conniving manipulator who worms his way into Queen Victoria’s favour? The film shows otherwise portraying his genuine intentions in contrast to those around him.

The Queen calls him her Munshi as his servant role changes to language teacher and private confidant. She seems to blossom and take on a new persona learning to speak and write a new language rather than reminiscing on her long reign and bothering with the tiresome power play surrounding her.

The strength of the film relies on Judy Dench’s consummate acting ability as she imbues depth of character into a part that could otherwise appear two dimensional. It is made more compelling since her age matches that of the late monarch and she conveys a reflective self portrait – a kind of greatness mixed with vulnerability. Ali Fazal’s Abdul is equally effective as he projects genuine charm without overly reacting against racial and cultural bias.

Highly recommended movie.

Tibetan Book of the Dead

Manuscript of Bardo Thodol

It’s dying to take you away..turn off your minds, relax and float down stream maybe quintessential Beatles or trippy mantra but some of these words connect to an ancient text via Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience.

But it was Aldous Huxley who introduced the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Leary via Walter Evans-Wentz’s translation of the Bado Thodol (1927, Oxford University Press). Evans-Wentz chose the title because of parallels he saw in the Egyptian book of The Dead.

The intention of the the text is to guide one through the experiences of consciousness after death and intermediary stages between death and rebirth. These transitional stages are known as Bardos. The text also includes rituals to undertake for the dead or dying.
The 3 Bardos are, 1) the Chikhai Bardo or Bardo of the moment of death or the clear light reality, 2) the Chonyid Bardo or Bardo of the experiencing of reality or the experience of visions of various Buddha forms and 3) the Sidpa Bardo or Bardo of rebirth hallucinations leading to rebirth and karmically impelled hallucinations.

Tibetan Book of the Dead

According to Leary, the Tibetan Book of The Dead is a key to the innermost recesses of the human mind and a guide for initiates and for those who are seeking the spiritual path of liberation.

The Psychedelic Experience

The Psychedelic Experience (1964, University Books) attempts to explain the symbolic nature of the hallucinatory experience when taking LSD. It’s not surprising those who’ve taken the drug describe experiences of intense white light & letting go of the ego, hallucinations of a karmic nature and another stage liken to rebirth or re-entry.

Whether or not this is the same as the inner journey as outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead is debatable.

John Lennon wrote Tomorrow Never Knows (1966) having read The Psychedelic Experience but felt LSD only exacerbated his personal problems. Other initiates weren’t so lucky stranded in permanent psychosis, the casualties of a drug phenomenon.