Filled with lyrical, exotic prose and nostalgia for Rudyard Kipling's native India, Kim is widely acknowledged as the author's greatest novel and a key element in his winning the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature. It is the tale of an orphaned sahib and the burdensome fate that awaits him when he is unwittingly dragged into the Great Game of Imperialism.
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Oh ye who tread the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,
Be gentle when the heathen pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!
He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam- Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher ' the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that ' fire-breathing dragon, ' hold the Punjab; for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror ' s loot.
There was some justification for Kim, ' he had kicked Lala Dinanath ' s boy off the trunnions, ' since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his mother-tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white ' a poor white of the very poorest. The half-caste woman who looked after him (she smoked opium, and pretended to keep a second-hand furniture shop by the square where the cheap cabs wait) told the missionaries that she was Kim ' s mother ' s sister; but his mother had been nursemaid in a colonel ' s family and had married Kimball O ' Hara, a young colour-sergeant of the Mavericks, an Irish regiment. He afterwards took a post on the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi railway, and his regiment went home without him. The wife died of cholera in Ferozepore, and O ' Hara fell to drink and loafing up and down the line with the keen-eyed three-year-old baby. Societies and chaplains anxious for the child, tried to catch him, but O ' Hara drifted away, till he came across the woman who took opium and learned the taste from her, and died as poor whites die in India. His estate at death consisted of three papers ' one he called his ' ne varietur ' because those words were written below his signature thereon, and another his ' clearance-certificate. ' The third was Kim ' s birth-certificate. Those things, he was used to say, in his glorious opium hours, would yet make little Kimball a man. On no account was Kim to part with them, for they belonged to a great piece of magic ' such magic as men practised over yonder behind the Museum, in the big blue and white Jadoo-Gher ' the Magic House, as we name the Masonic Lodge. It would, he said, all come right some day, and Kim ' s horn would be exalted between pillars ' monstrous pillars ' of beauty and strength. The Colonel himself, riding on a horse, at the head of the finest regiment in the world, would attend to Kim, ' little Kim that should have been better off than his father. Nine hundred first-class devils, whose god was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim, if they had not forgotten O ' Hara ' poor O ' Hara that was gang-foreman on the Ferozepore line. Then he would weep bitterly in the broken rush chair on the verandah. So it came about after his death that the woman sewed parchment, paper, and birth-certificate into a leather amulet-case which she strung round Kim ' s neck.