Thursday, May 19, 2016

Kim - Rudyard Kipling

Another one off the list. This is the first of Kipling's books I have read. He writes in the thee, thy, thou style, written as it was in 1901 or so, but the story and characters are interesting and racy.

Kim is Kimball 'O Hara, son of an Irish soldier, who loses both parents, and is living on the streets of Lahore. He is a bit of a Tom Sawyer like character but with a street smartness that comes out of living and surviving on the tough streets. He looks and talks like a native though he is a sahib - and proof of the same hangs around his neck in an amulet. Quick of tongue, sharp of mind, strong of build, Kim has a feel for many things. Among his many dangerous jobs - he carries messages for Mahbub Ali a British secret service man to the regiments in the time of British -Russian hostility.

However the story is about the affectionate and loving relationship between this feisty young lad and an aged Tibetan lama who is searching for a river that will wash away all illusion. It is a story of a guru and a chela in the end, and their relationship blossoms beautifully.

Kim, in search of the river with his guru, is however caught by a British regiment. It is soon found out that his real parentage is that of a sahib and the chaplain sends him off to school, funded by the lama. Kim uses his education and training in espionage that he receives on the side to good effect and finds his guru again. In their search for the river the guru and chela endure much hardship, encounter Russians and save the British from danger. They return from the mountains - and finally the lama finds his river - enlightenment. A fine love story develops between Kim and a woman of the mountains and for me that love story was shown with great restraint and energy. Kim is a character one won't forget once we meet him. He strides both worlds easily - of calm spirit and hot blooded action.

Rudyard Kipling writes with a rare insight into India of those days. He writes of the many nuances of life in the subcontinent, the caste system, the many incongruencies and behaviors, the turn of phrase, fun and adventure, love and relationships with the ease of someone who has been there and experienced this life closely. The language gets a mite tedious. However the most outstanding feature of the book is the way Kipling effortlessly navigates the various landscapes, gets under the skin and into the minds of so many different classes and communities of Indians.  

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