Everybody knows of Kipling and his timeless stories which delight the old and young alike. But few if any are aware of his writings on Rajputana because they have never been published in a book form and have remained as a series of newspaper articles. Maj Chandrakant Singh has compiled these now, which give an interesting glimpse into the years of the British Raj in India. Commissioned in 4 Guards, Major Chandrakant Singh, VrC is a veteran of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, where he was wounded and awarded the VrC for conspicuous gallantry and courage displayed throughout the war. Popularly called ‘Paunchy’ by his friends, he took premature retirement in 1977 and is now involved in writing and speaking on environmental and defence related issues.
The name of Rudyard Kipling through his books has become synonymous with India. However, of his working career starting at the age of 17 years in Lahore in 1883 as a sub editor of the Civil and Military Gazette and ending in 1889 as assistant editor of the Pioneer, Kipling spent only about six years of his adult life in India. In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his Indian stories and novels, making him at the age of forty-one, the youngest man ever and the first Englishman to receive the prize for literature.
Kipling was born in 1865 in Bombay and at the age of six packed off to England for education. After school, unable to get admission at Oxford, he returned to India in 1883 when he was only 17 years and joined the CMG as assistant editor. After six years in 1889 he again left India, never to return except for a very brief sojourn. Amongst other things, Kipling was also a travel writer and his writing on Rajasthan remain unequalled since the time of Col Tod and his ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajputana.’ But first let us get to know the man himself.
Kipling’s public image is that of an arch imperialist, advocate and spokesman for British colonial interests and staunch believer in England’s divine destiny to rule and civilise the world. As a chauvinistic and proud Indian, I should hate the man but here instead of painting him black, I find myself writing an eulogy, because in studying his works and life I find that the real Kipling was something totally different. He loved and admired India more than he did England, while remaining loyal to his English roots and Christian faith. Every author puts something of himself in his work as Tolstoy did in ‘War and Peace’ where young Nikolai Rostov is his alter ego.
Similarly, Kim is Kipling’s alter ego. In the final passage of the book, Kim renounces his biological western identity in favour of his acquired Indian self, Hindu and Buddhist. In today’s India, views and attitudes have become so polarised that it has become unfashionable or almost impossible to have a nuanced view of personalities and events without ruffling feathers. If you are of a particular political leaning then Nehru and all that he stood for and did was bad, worthy to qualify him as the Devil incarnate and similarly if you are on the other side of the political divide the same thing is said of the present dispensation. The reality is different and as a writer I prefer to look at personalities and events in a more nuanced manner, which is very much in our Indian tradition, as is so beautifully illustrated in our own great epic, the Mahabharata.
Seven or eight generations have grown up reading or watching Kipling’s stories and I don’t think that there is a child anywhere in the world except a pygmy in the deepest Congo or a Sentinelese Islander in the Andamans who cannot relate to the characters both human and animal in Kipling’s jungle book and to Mowgli and Kim. Inspired by a character in Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ and taking my size and army rank into consideration, my own children and grandchildren have named our family WhattsApp group ‘Major Hathi’s Tops. (Tops as for canons in Hindi with the ‘O’ pronounced as in hope.) I think they mean a loose cannon but are too polite to say so)
Even though lacking any worthwhile academic qualifications, in some ways I feel qualified to write and comment about Kipling. My childhood, education and later life in the army have enabled me to know and relate to places, people and animals, writing about whom Kipling devoted his entire life and career.
Kipling – Early Life
Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865 to John Lockwood and Alice Kipling in Bombay, on the campus of Jamsetjee Jeejabhoy School of Art where John was the superintendent. John Lockwood was an accomplished artist and designer, who undertook many projects for Queen Victoria (Osborne Palace) and for her son Duke of Connaught who was Commander in Chief in India. Alice was a MacDonald whose family had interests in the iron and steel industry. Through his mother’s sister, Rudyard was first cousin to Stanley Baldwin, the future three times prime minister of Britain. As was customary, Ruddy and his sister Trix spent more time with their Goan ayah and Meeta their male attendant than with their parents. In his biography he writes: “in the afternoon heat before we took our sleep the ayah and Meeta would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining room after we had dressed, with the caution ‘speak English now to Mama and Papa.’ So one spoke English, haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.”
Kipling wrote of Bombay:
Kipling’s parents considered themselves as Anglo-Indians and so did Kipling. Though he spent most of his life outside India, complex issues of identity and national allegiance became a prominent feature of his own life and his fiction. From 1871 to1877, Kipling was boarded with an English couple in Southsea, Portsmouth, in a lodge run by a retired merchant navy man and his wife. Kipling hated every moment of it. In 1877 his mother visited England and removed him from Lorne Lodge and admitted him to the United Services College in Devon. After five years in Devon, Kipling, unable to find a place at Oxford, returned to India.
By this time his father had moved to Lahore where he had taken over as the principal of the newly founded Mayo College of Art. The house they lived in, they named Bikaner House after the city of Bikaner because, like that city, their house was buffeted with hot winds and sandstorms during the hot season. His father’s influence helped Kipling find a job as sub-editor of the Civil and Military Gazette, the only English newspaper in North-West India. He was in Lahore till 1887, when he was transferred to Allahabad to take over a similar post with the pioneer.
In 1888 he toured Rajputana, which became the setting of some of his stories and poems. It is his account of his travels in Rajasthan, which bring out a side of Kipling of which few people are aware of.