"The Biggest Liar in Asia"

(by One Who Knows Him)


by Rudyard Kipling


(Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore
7 November 1887)






The title carries great honour and glory east of Suez and is much sought after. It is strictly personal; being neither hereditary nor transferrable. Unlike Knighthood, Orders and the like, it must be won through a man's unaided exertion, and, when attained, is by no means a secure possession, for another and a more fluent tongue may, at any moment, ravish it from the happy owner.

As virtue lost can never be recovered; so the proud name of `The Biggest Liar in Asia' once forfeited is gone for ever. Men have essayed to regain it with fifteen years' mountainous mendacity, but they have failed. In the Illustrious and Most Dishonourable Order of the Bonnes Fortunes, the Grand Cordon is known and revered by all his associates. Equal honour is shown to `The Biggest Liar in Asia' when he condescends to do battle in public places against all comers for the honour of his name. Men flock round him three deep, or slide their chairs towards him, and, when occasion serves, thrust forward some local liar, a bantam of yet unproven beak, to engage with the adversary. Such encounters are worth travelling across an Empire to hear. They occur but seldom.

Almost as much instruction may be gathered from a meeting between Presidential Liars—squires, as it were, striving towards the full glory of knighthood. Such a tourney these eyes have been privileged to witness. The honour of Bengal and Madras was concerned, and the betting ran high. The meeting was strictly private, and if ever man was brought to the post—the smoking-room after dinner—n fit condition, the Bengal Representative was that man. But his very fitness went near to be his ruin. He spoke too quickly, covered too much ground, and the effect of his epoch-marking inventions was in a measure lost. The Madras Man was tubby in person and slow of speech, but an artist in delivery and intonation. He capped his opponent's ancedotes with apparent effort and an assumed halting of memory; but his words sank one by one into our appalled ears, and the pauses between the sentences were devoted to listening for `the feet of the young men without'. They never came, and the Madras Man continued the awful tenor of his way.

At the critical moment, after the twenty-seventh ancedote, when Bengal was beginning to show signs of exhaustion, the door opened and there entered `The Biggest Liar in Asia'. No need to tell him what was going forward. His practised eye took in the situation without winking. On principle the Grand Master objected to any unauthorized lying, as tending to weaken his sovereignty. He struck and struck hard—this Abdur Rahman of Ananiases.

`What was that you were saying about a horse, you fellows? I remember when I was at Chittagong—' and then and there, without an instant's hesitation or weakness, he delivered the most stupendous, complete, and colossal lie that has ever been told of anything carrying four legs since the Primitive Man saw the Three-Toed Horse, and attempted feebly to fabricate his first untruth. Observe the magnificent originality of the idea! Not a word had been said of horses; the conversation at the moment of his entry running on railway-collisions. He had taken, of design, the oldest theme in the world, and from it evolved a melody unapproachable and unique. Paganini playing overtures on the C string was a suckling compared to `The Biggest Liar in Asia'.

There was a moment of silence that might have been weighed in the balance; then Madras and Bengal rose to their feet and saluted. It was their tender of submission, of admiration, and awe. The sovereignty of `the Biggest Liar in Asia' was assured. The strain on his brain must have been tremendous, but he betrayed no emotion beyond asking for a `peg'. This disposed of, he left the room amid thunders of applause—every inch a king. All bets were declared off, for public opinion felt that after such a display, any financial transaction would too closely resemble betting in a Church.

But a doom hangs over `The Biggest Liar in Asia', and he knows it and trembles. In a far-away, desolate, by-white-men-forgotten district, the Government have locked up a little wizened man with a voice like the cleaning of a file. In his banishment, he has heard calls and dreamed dreams, and he feels that Destiny has designed him to supplant `The Biggest Liar in Asia'. He has struck out a new gospel—one absolutely untramelled by facts of any kind. His stories will be unearthly in their mad prodigality of invention. A mystic and dreamer, he will presently descend upon India, and, in that day, `The Biggest Liar in Asia' will go down. He feels it himself, for he has spent a week with the little man and sees in him his Wellington. So transitory, alas, is human fame, and so unstable the foundation upon which human glory is builded!

But when the two meet it will be a perfectly gorgeous fight.