of Morrowbie Jukes"
by John McGivering)
|notes on the text|
To cut a long story short, Dunnoo is now my personal servant on a gold mohur a month – a sum which I still think far too little for the services he has rendered. Nothing on earth will induce me to go near that devilish spot again or to reveal its whereabouts more clearly than I have done. Of Gunga Dass I have never found a trace, nor do I wish to do. (sic) My sole motive in giving this to be published is the hope that someone may possibly identify, from the details and the inventory which I have given above, the corpse of the man in the olive-green shooting-suit.Haughton [Haughton, Hugh ed. Wee Willie Winkie with Intro and Notes Penguin Classics 1988, Reprinted Penguin Books 1989] quotes the first version in Quartette which differs somewhat from the above but conveys practically the same message.
(The mohur was the chief gold coin of British India, value Rs.15. [Hobson-Jobson])
If we look for truths in this story we will simply have to conclude that Kipling has got his facts wrong and rather mixed up. But that would miss the point of its impact. This tale of an hallucinatory hell is surely an early example of magical realism. Kipling is describing the symptoms that result from sun-stroke or heat-stroke, and the truth lies in the nightmarish delirium that sufferers from this malaise in India could so easily have experienced, particularly one on a mission to the outposts of the country.Some other critical comments
[The very high fever which affects the brain was only allayed by constant nursing with ice-bags and cold drinks. The scenario of the faithful servant coming to his master's rescue is, therefore, a fitting one. "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun" and a sahib on an expedition who has failed to return will immediately make his servant conclude that he has been struck down by the sun. The dream-like quality of the scene could mean that the journey did not in fact take place, and that the sufferer woke up after recuperation to see his man-servant bending over him.]
What the brahmin does and is prepared to do is unreal but not improbable. As a rule, a Hindu and particularly a brahmin, to whom present earthly life is one of many in the offing, dying is a less terrifying option than the breaking of rituals which would damn his salvation forever. But then again, the brahmin is a member of a secretive priestly society at the very top of the social ladder, a demiurge by virtue of privileged birth. He calls the shots and in an emergency can make up the rules, when necessary, to save his skin. And so one does hear of strange ordeals the Hindu has to undergo at the urge of his brahmin mentor-the sipping of cow's urine is one example.
When he wrote the story Kipling was still very young, and one for whom those early scenes of Indian life which he saw as a child in Bombay, would have been singed in his memory. It is impossible for the non-Hindu to view, without understanding or explanations, the sights and sounds of Hindu temple life. As a boy I remember, on a hot sleepless night, being terrified by the constant sounds of bells and beating drums, and my own mental visions of strange rituals. Under an attack of sun-stroke, such a mind-frame could become nightmarish. In Bombay a sensitive child can also be haunted by those Parsee Towers of Silence, infested by crows-ravenous ravens - as well as vultures.
Kipling has written a tale of a sun-stroke victim and let his imagination go riot, and not for the last time. A mature version is to be found in "At the End of the Passage" in Life's Handicap. But here an insomniac young Kipling, wandering the mean streets of cities of dreadful nights and contemplating the ugliness of Indian poverty, made worse by superstitions, is ripe for producing such a Poe-like tale as "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes."
Sharad Keskar, June 2004.