Tuesday 2 February 2010
An Exceedingly Good Writer
Rudyard Kipling is another of my favourite writers, though he is well out of fashion now because of his political views; well out of fashion because he is the high priest of the golden age of imperialism. His eclipse is rather a pity because his prose is vivid, earthy and captivating. He also loved India, a love that is no longer returned, at least by some.
Plans to turn the house where he was born in Bombay into a Kipling museum have been shelved for fear of an adverse political reaction. Instead the place will be used to display the work of local artists, with no mention of its past associations. Mukund Gorash, in charge of the restoration project, was reprimanded by the local authorities for referring to the building as the Kipling House, insisting that it be called the Dean’s House, a reference to its former use.
But there are Indians who do understand that Kipling was so much more than an avatar of imperialism. Sharad Keskar, Chairman of the Kipling Society, said “You have a fairy ignorant officialdom in India, who don’t know much about Kipling apart from the fact that he was an imperialist or part of the Raj. Officially he is still persona non grata. I think that is changing, but it’s rather a slow change.”
It really is time that India woke up to the fact that imperialism was not always a bad thing; that the country owes as much to the British as it does to the Mughals, the previous conquerors. Modern India, it seems obvious to me, is inconceivable without the influence of the Raj, particularly in the use of English as a language that unifies a vast country without a past history of unity.
This brings me back to Kipling. Most people- perhaps even the officials to whom Keskar alludes –know, as if by reflex, at least the first two lines of the “Ballad of East and West”;
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat.
Do they know how it continues I wonder; do you know?
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho' they come from the ends of the earth!
And if Pandit Nehru, the first prime minister of India, could describe Kim as his favourite novel then that should be good enough a recommendation for anyone…even Indian bureaucrats. :-)