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From the Publisher“A work of positive genius, as radiant all over with intellectual light as the sky of a frosty night with stars.”
—The Atlantic Monthly
Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is the tale of an Irish orphan raised as an Indian vagabond on the rough streets of colonial Lahore. Young Kimball O’Hara’s coming of age takes place in a world of high adventure, mystic quests, and secret games of espionage played out between the Russians and the British in the mountain passages of Asia. Kim is torn between his allegiance to the ascetic lama who becomes his beloved mentor and the temptations of those who want to recruit him as a spy in the “great game” of imperial conflict....
Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is the tale of an Irish orphan raised as an Indian vagabond on the rough streets of colonial Lahore. Young Kimball O’Hara’s coming of age takes place in a world of high adventure, mystic quests, and secret games of espionage played out between the Russians and the British in the mountain passages of Asia. Kim is torn between his allegiance to the ascetic lama who becomes his beloved mentor and the temptations of those who want to recruit him as a spy in the “great game” of imperial conflict. In a series of thrilling escapades, he crisscrosses India on missions both spiritual and military before the two forces in his life converge in a dramatic climax in the high Himalayas.
Published in 1901, after its author had permanently moved away from India, Kipling’s masterpiece is marked by a maturity of perspective on the land of his birth, combined with breathtakingly brilliant descriptions of the fascinating lost world of the British Raj. Kim has enthralled generations of readers both by the exuberance of its storytelling and its vital and unforgettable portrait of the India of bazaars and sacred rivers, holy men and rogues, ancient customs and colonial society.
Kim, one of Kipling's masterpieces, is the story of the orphaned son of an officer in the Irish Regiment.
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.
“And some day,” she said, confusedly remembering O’Hara’s prophecies, “there will come for you a great Red Bull on a green field, and the Colonel riding on his tall horse, yes, and”—dropping into English—“nine hundred devils.”
“Ah,” said Kim, “I shall remember. A Red Bull and a Colonel on a horse will come, but first, my father said, come the two men making ready the ground for these matters. That is how, my father said, they always did; and it is always so when men work magic.”
If the woman had sent Kim up to the local Jadoo-Gher with those papers, he would, of course, have been taken over by the Provincial Lodge and sent to the Masonic Orphanage in the Hills; but what she had heard of magic she distrusted. Kim, too, held views of his own. As he reached the years of indiscretion, he learned to avoid missionaries and white men of serious aspect who asked who he was, and what he did. For Kim did nothing with an immense success. True, he knew the wonderful walled city of Lahore from the Delhi Gate to the outer Fort Ditch; was hand in glove with men who led lives stranger than anything Haroun al Raschid dreamed of; and he lived in a life wild as that of the Arabian Nights, but missionaries and secretaries of charitable societies could not see the beauty of it. His nickname through the wards was “Little Friend of all the World”; and very often, being lithe and inconspicuous, he executed commissions by night on the crowded housetops for sleek and shiny young men of fashion. It was intrigue, of course,—he knew that much, as he had known all evil since he could speak,—but what he loved was the game for its own sake—the stealthy prowl through the dark gullies and lanes, the crawl up a water-pipe, the sights and sounds of the women’s world on the flat roofs, and the headlong flight from housetop to housetop under cover of the hot dark. Then there were holy men, ash-smeared faquirs by their brick shrines under the trees at the riverside, with whom he was quite familiar—greeting them as they returned from begging-tours, and, when no one was by, eating from the same dish. The woman who looked after him insisted with tears that he should wear European clothes—trousers, a shirt, and a battered hat. Kim found it easier to slip into Hindu or Mohammedan garb when engaged on certain businesses. One of the young men of fashion—he who was found dead at the bottom of a well on the night of the earthquake—had once given him a complete suit of Hindu kit, the costume of a low-caste street boy, and Kim stored it in a secret place under some baulks in Nila Ram’s timber-yard, beyond the Punjab High Court, where the fragrant deodar logs lie seasoning after they have driven down the Ravee. When there was business or frolic afoot, Kim would use his properties, returning at dawn to the verandah, all tired out from shouting at the heels of a marriage procession, or yelling at a Hindu festival. Sometimes there was food in the house, more often there was not, and Kim went out again to eat with his native friends.
As he drummed his heels against Zam-Zammah he turned now and again from his king-of-the-castle game with little Chota Lal and Abdullah the sweetmeat-seller’s son, to make a rude remark to the native policeman on guard over rows of shoes at the Museum door. The big Punjabi grinned tolerantly: he knew Kim of old. So did the water-carrier, sluicing water on the dry road from his goat-skin bag. So did Jawahir Singh, the Museum carpenter, bent over new packing-cases. So did everybody in sight except the peasants from the country, hurrying up to the Wonder House to view the things that men made in their own province and elsewhere. The Museum was given up to Indian arts and manufactures, and anybody who sought wisdom could ask the curator to explain.
“Off! Off! Let me up!” cried Abdullah, climbing up Zam- Zammah’s wheel.
“Thy father14 was a pastry-cook, Thy mother stole the ghi,” sang Kim. “All Mussalmans fell off Zam-Zammah long ago!”
“Let me up!” shrilled little Chota Lal in his gilt-embroidered cap. His father was worth perhaps half a million sterling, but India is the only democratic land in the world.
“The Hindus fell off Zam-Zammah too. The Mussalmans pushed them off. Thy father was a pastry-cook——”
He stopped; for there shuffled round the corner, from the roaring Motee Bazar,16 such a man as Kim, who thought he knew all castes, had never seen. He was nearly six feet high, dressed in fold upon fold of dingy stuff like horse-blanketing, and not one fold of it could Kim refer to any known trade or profession. At his belt hung a long open-work iron pencase and a wooden rosary such as holy men wear. On his head was a gigantic sort of tam-o’-shanter. His face was yellow and wrinkled, like that of Fook Shing, the Chinese bootmaker in the bazar. His eyes turned up at the corners and looked like little slits of onyx.
“Who is that?” said Kim to his companions.
“Perhaps it is a man,” said Abdullah, finger in mouth, staring.
“Without doubt,” returned Kim; “but he is no man of India that I have ever seen.”
“A priest, perhaps,” said Chota Lal, spying the rosary. “See! He goes into the Wonder House!”
“Nay, nay,” said the policeman, shaking his head. “I do not understand your talk.” The constable spoke Punjabi. “Oh, The Friend of all the World, what does he say?”
“Send him hither,” said Kim, dropping from Zam-Zammah, flourishing his bare heels. “He is a foreigner, and thou art a buffalo.”
The man turned helplessly and drifted towards the boys. He was old, and his woollen gaberdine still reeked of the stinking artemisia of the mountain passes.
“O Children, what is that big house?” he said in very fair Urdu.
“The Ajaib-Gher, the Wonder House!” Kim gave him no title—such as Lala or Mian. He could not divine the man’s creed.
“Ah! The Wonder House! Can any enter?”
“It is written above the door—all can enter.”
“I go in and out. I am no banker,” laughed Kim.
“Alas! I am an old man. I did not know.” Then, fingering his rosary, he half turned to the Museum.
“What is your caste? Where is your house? Have you come far?” Kim asked.
“I came by Kulu—from beyond the Kailas—but what know you? From the hills where”—he sighed—“the air and water are fresh and cool.”
“Aha! Khitai (a Chinaman),” said Abdullah proudly. Fook Shing had once chased him out of his shop for spitting at the joss above the boots.
“Pahari (a hillman),” said little Chota Lal.
“Aye, child—a hillman from hills thou’lt never see. Didst hear of Bhotiyal (Tibet)? I am no Khitai, but a Bhotiya (Tibetan), since you must know—a lama—or, say a guru in your tongue.”
“A guru from Tibet,” said Kim. “I have not seen such a man. They be Hindus in Tibet, then?”
“We be followers of the Middle Way, living in peace in our lamasseries, and I go to see the Four Holy Places before I die. Now do you, who are children, know as much as I do who am old.” He smiled benignantly on the boys.
“Hast thou eaten?”
He fumbled in his bosom and drew forth a worn wooden begging-bowl. The boys nodded. All priests of their acquaintance begged.
“I do not wish to eat yet.” He turned his head like an old tortoise in the sunlight. “Is it true that there are many images in the Wonder House of Lahore?” He repeated the last words as one making sure of an address.
“That is true,” said Abdullah. “It is full of heathen b¯uts. Thou also art an idolator.”
“Never mind him,” said Kim. “That is the Government’s house and there is no idolatry in it, but only a Sahib with a white beard. Come with me and I will show.”
“Strange priests eat boys,” whispered Chota Lal.
“And he is a stranger and a b¯ut-parast (idolator),” said Abdullah, the Mohammedan.
Kim laughed. “He is new. Run to your mothers’ laps, and be safe. Come!”
Posted March 16, 2005
Ok, we all know that he was a colonialist and at times bordered on bigotry, but this book is Rudyard Kipling's best and it is an absolute masterpiece. It's the ultimate tale of an Englishman gone native: James Bond meets Siddhartha. Kipling's identification with Kim, his young protagonist, is complete. This is the work of a man passionately in love with India, and in possession of extraordinary powers of observation and description.
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Posted April 19, 2010
One of the most beautiful tales of friendship I have ever read, Kim is much more. Rudyard Kipling created in Kim a novel in the mold of the classic heroic journey that has a pedigree reaching back to Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. With Kim, a young white boy, sahib, at it's center and his friend and mentor the Lama, we see the world of India in the nineteenth century as it is ruled by Great Britain. Kipling raises questions of identity (Who is Kim?), culture, spirituality and the nature of fate. Most of all he depicts the growth of a young man through his quest to find his destiny and the bond that develops between Kim as 'chela' or disciple and his Lama. The greatness of this novel lies in Kipling's ability to combine all of these themes with a natural style that conveys the richness both of the lives of Kim and his friends and the fecundity of life in India. One of the most enduring images for me was the close tie Kim has with the land itself. This is shown several times throughout the novel culminating in his final renewal when stretched out on the earth near the end of the novel. The epic quest is successful as this novel unfolds a positive and uplifting narrative.
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Posted March 7, 2005
Kipling has become, in these post-colonial days, the man you love to hate. Yet few have equaled Kipling¿s story of an Indian beggar boy whose experience in the heyday of the British raj forces him into personal transformation that entirely illuminates the impact of colonialism on a subject people. The novel, owing to the strength of its narrative and its fatally believable realism, hovers on the dark side of modern consciousness, as does much of Kipling. The writer who invented the phrase ¿The White Man¿s Burden¿ is someone many people would like to forget. But one testimony to the ongoing power of Kim is the recent novel The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru, a descant on Kipling¿s narrative of the problem of identity in British India. The fact that an Indian author borrows Kipling¿s idea and shapes a story on Kiplingesque lines is simply testimony to the ongoing authority of this classic.
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Posted November 24, 2009
I Also Recommend:
I love Kim!! It is the most amazing book and it touches you. Kim my grandfather wanted me to read it and I have to say I was a little sceptical at first , but it turned out to be asdonding. YOU must read this book and watch the movie with Errol Flynn!! Its is simaler to the book in some was. I am 11 and I love Kim and Rudyard Kiplings books.I would recommend this to someone. I have to my friend Caroline. I also recommed Kim the movie with Errol Flynn it is the best of them all.
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Posted September 24, 2011
Posted May 30, 2005
Kim is an exceptional piece of literature relating to imperialistic India. Kipling's use of Indian diction, especially with the lama. The novel is a truthful depiction pertaining to the confusion of race, religion, and imperial expansion. The author, Rudyard Kipling, however, was an absolute racist, which almost makes one want to hurl the book against a wall instead of reading it. Kipling coined the despicable term 'white man's burden', which related to the need for expansion in order to 'civilize' the 'savage' man in the East. I love the novel, but loathe its creator.
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Posted July 21, 2003
Kim is certainly a classic. It tells the tale of Kim O¿Hara a free spirited Anglo Indian, who adventures across India with his spiritual guide in search of a secret holy river, and is slowly drawn into the world of espionage. Rudyard Kipling aptly describes Kim¿s journey into manhood, beautifully illustrating his experiences, travels and the extraordinary people he meets. The book really captures pre-independence India well, but undeniably seen from the eyes of an colonialist.
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