‘Kim‘ is one of the most celebrated works of Rudyard Kipling. Well, perhaps next to ‘The Jungle Book’ after Disney took charge of presenting the story on celluloid. I read ‘Kim‘ in school in its abridged form. It left me with an innate desire to go back to the affable old Buddhist monk and the young foreigner boy journeying across the northern belt of India during the British rule.
When I went out in search of this book, there was one condition set; I wanted it to match my existing edition of the ‘Penguin Popular Classics’ collection. Yes, weird bookish things that overpower my brain many-a-times. I finally found the copy I own about 8-9 years back. The cover has the painting of ‘The Fortress of Chunur Ghur’ on the Ganges, Uttar Pradesh by William Hodges from the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Staffs.
About the Story
Kim as the title goes is about this boy named Kim, an orphan living on the streets of Lahore during the British occupation of India. Kim’s half-Irish descent doesn’t help him as he exists on a vagabond life begging and running small errands. Mahbub Ali, a Pashtun horse trader who also works as a spy for the British recruits Kim to carry a message to the head of British Intelligence in Ambala. This message unfolds the pieces of ‘The Great Game’, the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia.
‘Kim’ the book made the term ‘Great Game’ popular and introduced the theme of great power rivalry. Therefore, the setting of the book after the Second Afghan War which ended in 1881 and before the Third Afghan War from 1893 to 1898 is important.
On the way, Kim becomes the “chela,” or disciple, of Teshoo Lama, a Tibetan lama who is on a spiritual journey to find the “River of the Arrow.” There is an unusual bond between Kim and the Lama that becomes the heart of the story.
‘Kim’ captures the opulence of India’s exotic landscape, overlaid by the uneasy presence of the British Raj.
In 1907, at the age of 42, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize and its youngest recipient to date.
Kim was first published serially in McClure’s Magazine from 1900 to 1901. The UK edition was published a couple of weeks after the first American edition. The first UK edition of the copy in red cloth featured a gilt-stamped Kipling emblem of an elephant carrying a lotus flower and a small swastika to the front board. This emblem was designed to reflect the influence of Indian culture on Kipling’s work. Once the Nazis came to power and usurped the swastika, Kipling ordered that it should no longer adorn his books.
Henry James said: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius, as distinct from fine intelligence, that I have ever known.”