[August 6 2005]
This was the first story in In Black and White published in The Week’s News of April 28, 1888 and collected in No.3 of The Indian Railway Library, with a Preface purporting to be by Kadir Baksh, khitmatgar (sic), who claims a share in the success of the book as he picked up the sheets from the floor as the author dropped them and then arranged them in the right order. This 'Preface' is not usually included with In Black and White in later editions of Soldiers Three and Other Stories.
The narrator of this story, which is told to an Englishman, is a Pathan horse dealer, a sad desperate obsessive man, who had married a young and beautiful wife. Coming home early from a journey, he had surprised her with a lover, Daoud Shah. Daoud Sha fled, but the husband had confronted his wife, cut off her head and breasts, and flung her body into the river.
Now his life is dominated by the thirst for vengeance on Daoud Shah, whom he has vowed to kill, to wipe out the stain on his honour. He has pursued him from the frontier to Delhi and beyond, and is pursuing him still.
ORG suggests that this story was inspired by a poem called “The Ring and the Book” by Robert Browning (1812-1889), a long and complicated tale of adultery, murder and a changeling but does not cite the source. [Information will be welcomed; Ed.] The poem does, however, contain a character called “Tertium Quid” ('A Third Something' in Latin) a name Kipling used in “At the Pit’s Mouth” (Plain Tales from the Hills). This suggests that he was familiar with the poem.
Some critical comments
In his Foreword to the R.S.Surtees Society reprint of In Black and White (1987), Philip Mason remarks:
"Dray Wara Yow Dee”, perhaps the most powerful and passionately felt of the eight, illustrates one danger of the indirect method… Is it conceivable that before he had achieved his purpose he would have told his story to even the most sympathetic ? Not to me… I find it hard to believe in the intimate friendship between the Pathan and the Englishman… once I am over that hurdle, I am carried along by the strength of the story – in spite of the frame, not because of it.The theme of revenge runs through a lot of Kipling’s work and has been much discussed by the commentators.– see Chapter 5 “ Hatred and Revenge” in Dr. J.M.S. Tompkins’s The Art of Rudyard Kipling.
This story [too long by half in the view of this Editor], is a rather tedious travelogue to readers today; the list of places would have been familiar to his readers in India, but changes of names tend to confuse the modern reader despite assistance from the guidebook Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway (Lonely Planet, 2004).
Ricketts (p.114) refers to this story as the first of Kipling’s dramatic monologues by Indians for which he evolved an elaborately ornate English intended to convey the richly allusive, ritualistic texture of the venacular. (Others are “At Howli Thana”, “In Flood-Time” and “Gemini” later in this volume.)
Louis Cornell (p.150) calls this a pure distillation of of the passion of jealousy, an uncivilised, even primordial response to the betrayal of love.
Harold Orel (page 95) quotes Edmonia Hill’s article in The South Atlantic Quarterly for April 1936, in which she observes that the incident of the killing is taken bodily from a deposition in a Frontier murder-case.
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved