Kim (Rudyard Kipling)

Rating 5/5 superb.

I was reading a collection of short stories by Ruskin Bond by the name “Delhi is not far”, when I came across an adulatory piece, venerating Rudyard Kipling. I, ofcourse, had heard of Rudyard Kipling as the author of “The Jungle Book”, but had never read any of his works, being satisfied with Walt Disney’s interpretation of the same. The adulation heaped on Kipling by Bond, to the effect of dedicating a short story to him, peaked my interest in Kipling’s works. The same evening I hopped over to Crossword to begin my collection. I got hold of 2 books, “The Jungle Books” and “Kim”. This is a review of “Kim”.

Kim is the name of our Protagonist, a child of a British sahib, who is orphaned at birth and handed over to an Indian Maid Servant with instructions (in the form of a sheet of paper) to send the boy to a (British) government run boarding school. The maid servant makes the paper into a pendant to hang around the childs neck, thinking it to be a charm, like those the Babaji’s write and place in metal containers to ward away evil spirits. Thus Kim begins his life on the streets as a beggar. The second of our heroes is a Lama (Monk) from Nepal who is in search of a sacred river, which is said to have sprung from the ground where the Buddha had pierced it with an arrow. The Lama meets Kim on his search, and Kim becomes his Chela (student, learns from the teacher, while looking after the teachers needs, like begging for food etc). Kim is partially driven out of concern for the Lama who is too innocent for the hardships of an indian beggar and partially to learn the secret of the pendant that hangs around his neck. The Lama is in search of his river, but also feels it is his duty to train Kim on the true path.

Throughout the narrative Kipling shows the depth of his knowledge of the Indian people, their customs, their beliefs and superstitions. Every page is filled with colourful characters that breath life into the narrative and each character is coloured with Indian idiosyncrasies and beliefs. The British Raj is described as well in all its contradictory glory. On the one hand the Englishman towers above the natives controlling them by their superstitions, but on the other hand he cannot survive without their sincerity, kindness and faith.

Amid all the chaos and cacophony of the British Raj, the central story of a boys growth into a man and the fruition of an old mans faith, is treated with utmost tenderness. Ultimately this tenderness transforms into a deep love in the heart of the reader. A love for the holy man, so innocent but determined and a love for Kim, who is pulled in all directions by his environment, but is unwilling to abandon his holy man.