Many books, movies and television programs have dealt the British presence in India. Many British writers spent some time in India and wrote about it. William Makepeace Thackery, author of “Vanity Fair”, was born in Calcutta. There is still a sign at the bungalow there that says “William Makepeace Thackery was born here.” E.M. Forester’s “Passage to India” (1924) was made into a popular 1984 film.

Many books, movies and television programs on India have either deat with its history or it poverty. Dominique Lapierre's wrote “City of Joy”, a novel about Calcutta made into a film with Patrick Swayze, and Larry Collin’s “Freedom at Midnight”, a bestselling 1976 historical novel about India’s 1947 independence and partition. Lapierre donated money for a floating clinic in Ganges Delta.

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) is one of Britain' most popular writers. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907; his poem "If" was selected Britain's favorite poem in a 1995 telephone poll. He was also voted Britain's favorite poet ahead of the Irish poets William Butler Yeats and William Wordsworth. [Source: Timothy Foote, Smithsonian magazine, January 1986]

Summing up Kipling's place in turn-of-the-century Victorian history, English writer Timothy Foote wrote: "Aesthetes like Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley had about run their course. Kipling was a new voice. He was brash and he was brilliant, and he wrote like a house afire, both in verse and prose, and readers couldn't get enough of him. In an age not noted for candor (or realism) he dealt briskly with war and casual death, cruelty and the cost of discipline, addiction to the Black Smoke (opium) and the seasonal seductions in Simla, the summer capital of the British Raj in darkest India...Kipling still takes up 13 pages in “Bartlett's Familiar Quotations”, and two columns in “Books in Print”. He is probably the most quoted (as well as misquoted) writer” of the 20th century.

In Kim, Kipling became the first European writer to suggest that Buddhism and Hinduism "can coalesce with Christian concepts of love." He also explored the idea that no person could become personally holy or saved without a commitment of love to the world and other people. Despite his enlightened and liberated views on many subjects Kipling could be a passionate jingost chauvinist. He also lied about his army record.

Kipling's Early Life

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on December 30, 1865 not far from where the Parsi's put their dead in above-ground graves to be eaten by vultures. One of Kipling's first memories was of his mother picking out a child's hand in the garden. Kipling's father ran the Jamset Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay and was the curator of the museum in Lahore. His mother once threw a lock a John Wesley's hair into a fire, saying "Hair of the dog that bit us." At the age of three, Rudyard reportedly marched down the street of an English town shouting "Out of the way, out of the way, there's an angry Ruddy coming."

As a youth Kipling was severely punished, sometimes unfairly, for misdeeds by his fiercely religious parents. In his story “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”he recounts an episode in which he was forced to wear a sign to school that read "LIAR." He was small and unathletic and educated at military school where he was known for his wit, humor and toughness. He once got in trouble for throwing clay in an art class.

Shortly before graduation his headmaster commented that he didn't think Kipling had "the stuff to resist temptation" and added that "journalism seemed to be especially invented of such desultory souls." Kipling was excluded from fighting in the army because he wore coke-bottle glasses and instead he was given a newspaper job. Kipling's first assignment, at the age of 17, was a position at the “Civil and Military Gazette”, a daily based in Lahore, (now in Pakistan) that covered fighting between the British and the wild frontier tribes of the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan.

During his leisure time Kipling explored the local all-night liquor shops and opium dens in Lahore. India at this time was alive with disease. He witnessed scores of people die from typhoid, cholera and malaria (everyday he took 30 grains of quinine in his sherry as a prophylactic). He wrote two books—“Departmental Ditties” and “Plain Tales from the Hills”—the second which contained a monologue by an opium addict that shocked the few English readers that read it in 1888.

Kipling's Love Life and Friends

Around time Kipling was in Second Afghan War he was rejected by a women he loved. He wrote about his feelings in a novel called “The Light That Failed” and a poem titled “The Vampire”. In the later he wrote:

“A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care)
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)”

About his literary friends in London he had equally bitter sentiments:

“I consort with long haired things
In velvet collar-rolls
Who talk about the Aims of Art
And 'theories' and 'goals’
And moo and coo with womenfolk
About their blessed souls”

After suffering a nervous breakdown, Kipling left London 1890. He on January 18, 1891 to marry Caroline Balestier, the sister of an American man he met on a ship. Most of family was in India so the writer Henry James gave away the bride. The couple settled in snowy Vermont near her family where he wrote the “Jungle Book” and “Captains Courageous”.

Kipling was friends with Teddy Roosevelt but differed with the president over the way European Americans "extirpated the aboriginal of their continent more completely than any modern race had ever done." The United States itself he said had "unlimited and meticulous legality, but of law abiding, not a trace." Kipling left America in 1896. He was mocked in the American press from bringing a suit against a man who threatened to kill him.

Kipling, the Writer

After the Second Afghan War Kipling wrote short stories for a newspaper in Allahabad. After six-and-half years these stories were sold for £250 to publisher who sold them as pamphlet-like paperbacks in railway stations in India. With this money he set off an a round the world journey, ending up in 1889 in London, where he posted a sign outside his Villiers Street flat that read "To publishers, Classics while you wait." Two years later newspapers and magazines anxiously wooed him and everyone from Oscar Wilde to Henry James praised his work.

Kipling first made his mark when “The Man Who Would be King"” was published when he was only 23. By the time “Kim” was published in 1901 he was a wealthy man and his popularity ranked with that of a movies star today. In 1907 he became the first Englishman to win a Nobel Prize. He shunned publicity and once wrote that the fascination of the public toward famous people was a form of "Higher Cannibalism." Near the end of his life he pleaded "the dead are borne in mind\ Seek no to question other than\ the books I leave behind."

Kipling liked to write with the blackest ink he could find and he fantasized about keeping "an ink boy to grind me Indian ink."Rudyard Kipling's observations on elephants was used as a metaphor for the fledgling Indian government. "Elephants do not gallop," Kipling wrote. "They move...of varying rates of speed. If an elephant wished to catch a train he could not gallop, but he could catch the train."

Kipling's Writing

Kipling wrote about themes and people during the height of the British Empire but ignored heroic figures and wrote about the everyday people that were the backbone of the empire: Cornish railway workers, Indian laborers, English soldiers. He seemed to have a particularly keen interest in the daily episodes of war even though he never actually witnessed a battle during his early years. In one poem her wrote: "When you're wounded and left on the Afghanistan plains\ And the women come to cut up what remains\ jest roll on to your rifle and blow out your brains,\ An’ go to your “Gawd” like a soldier."

Kim was supposedly the first spy novel ever written. Kim had all of his adventures on the Grand Trunk Road, which runs all the way from Peshawar in present-day Pakistan to Calcutta. Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Ky is named her oldest son Kim after the character in Kipling’s novel.

Kipling loved children and he was often observed leaving a room full of adults to tell a group of boys and girls a tale or two from India. His most famous children's story was perhaps “Wee Willie Winkie”. “The Phantom of the Rickshaw and Other Eerie Tales” was another favorite.

In the “Jungle Book,” the tiger Shere Khan stalked the jungle boy Mowgli but Mowgli was smarter and quicker and able to escape at the end. “Jungle Book” was made into a Disney animated film. Mowgli may have been inspired by news reports of a wolf boy rescued from the Indian jungle about the time Kipling began writing his book.

Kipling's Poetry

In a 1995 telephone poll Kipling's poem "If" was selected as Britain’s favorite poem. The famous poem begins:

“ If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubt too;
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal with lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And ye don't look too good, nor talk too wise...”

“Gunga Din”, another famous Kipling poem, is about the loyalty of Indian servants for British soldiers fighting in the Punjab. In his controversial poem “White Man's Burden”, Kipling glorified colonization and the conversion of foreigners to the superior English way of life.

Road to Mandalay

In his famous 1890 poem “The Road to Mandalay” , Rudyard Kipling wrote:

“On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer
China 'crost the Bay!...

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot”

The thing is though Kipling never went to Mandalay. He only visited Burma for three days when a ship he was traveling on made a stop in Rangoon and Moulmein, both a considerable distance from Mandalay. The road to Mandalay is believed to be have been the Irrawaddy River. Even though the time he spent in Burma was short, Kipling was fascinated with the place at the period in time it was becoming a British colony. In 1898, he wrote”"This is Burma, and it is quite unlike any land you know about."

Kipling's Last Years

Kipling defended British soldiers and criticized the public for "making a mockery of uniforms that guard you while you sleep.” He praised England for trying to bring progress to the world but criticized it for failing to live up the responsibilities of the empire. He especially lashed out against Britain's roll in Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa that resulted in 22,000 causalities He and others were appalled by the way the British army conducted itself. The Boers won early victories using guerilla tactics but the British prevailed in part by burning fields and placing Boer families in concentration camps.

Before World War I, Kipling spoke out against what he saw going on in Germany and the Soviet Union and was labeled a warmonger and fascist by pacifists for his efforts. One critic wrote that he had become so unpopular he "had been dropped out of modern literature." Kipling lost his 18-year-old son John in the Battle of Loos in 1915. Despite evidence to the contrary, Kipling refused to believe that his son died.

Kipling died in 1936. In the 1940s writers gave him another look. T.S. Eliot praised "poetic craftsmanship" and "remarkable rhythmic innovations' and George Orwell defended his imperialist notions not as "money making concern" but as "a sort of forcible evangelizing." Today over 55,000 people a year visits Bateman's, his spacious home in the Sussex countryside where he lived for most of the last 34 years of his life.

Paul Scott, the Raj Quartet and the Jewl and the Crown

Paul Scott is a British novelist who wrote “The Raj Quartet”, source of the popular television series “The Jewel and the Crown”. Paul Scott was born in 1920. You get the impression from his books that he spent a great deal of his life in India but that is not the case. He spent a brief amount time there when he was a soldier in World War II. His research consisted of questioning Indian cooks and gardeners in Britain. He visited India only once while writing the “Raj Quartet” and hated almost every minute of it. Scott viewed India as a metaphor of his age. He wrote "the spectacle of two nations locked in an imperial embrace of such long standing subtlety it was no longer possible for to know whether hated or loved one another."

Scott workers as a soldier, an accountant, a literary agent and writer. He decided to write about India at the age of 43, after completing eight novels, all of them commercial failures. He worked under what he described as the "terrible cumulative weight of sustained failure." Describing his obsession, his daughter wrote, "It was as if he had exiled himself to the one room where there was nothing but the typewriter and the blank page. It was the making of him as a writer, but the unmaking of him as a human being."

Scott rose at 7:00am and wrote continuously except brief breaks for meals and television. His wife found his habits so obsessive she kept a bag backed for 12 years in case she suddenly decided to leave him. In 1976, she finally had enough and did leave. Scott began the day with a drink and drank as he wrote all day. His wife said, he "used alcohol functionally, almost medicinally, as an essential fuel."

The “Raj Quartet” sold modestly after publication in the 1960s. I was reprinted in 1977, the year that Scott won the prestigious Booker Prize for “Staying On”, his final book on India. Hari Kumar, one of the main characters of the “Raj Quartet”, was based on a British-educated Indian named Neil Goosh, who felt alienated in India and among his Oxbridge friends in Britain. Scott died of cancer in 1978, fiver years before “The Jewel in the Crown” became a big hit on television.

Books: “Raj Quartet” by Paul Scott; “Paul Scott: A Life of the Author of the Raj Quartet” by Hilary Spurling (Norton).

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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