[May 5th 2006]
This story was first published in the United States in Mine Own People in 1891, and in Life’s Handicap the same year.
The narrator vists a remote little mountain kingdom in the Himalayas. He is received by the King, who talks of his problems with a certain turbulent family headed by Namgay Doola, a wild red-headed hillman with a brood of children as wild as himself. When there is a risky job to be done, Namgay Doola leads all the rest, but he is impudent towards authority and stirs up the people to refuse to pay their taxes. He is also a dangerous man to flout. When one of the villagers betrays him to the King, he cuts off his cow's tail in revenge.
The narrator visits him and his family in their hut, and realises thar - through his father, who was a soldier called 'Timlay Doola' (a corruption of 'Tim Doolan') - he is of Irish blood. He advises the King to make Namgay Doola chief of the Army, and not to allow him any land or expect him to pay taxes. He accepts the honour, with contrition for his offences, and there is peace in the valley.
Although founded on fact, and probably suggested to Kipling by Quarter-Master Sergeant Bancroft, late of First Troop, Second Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery, who had settled in the hills near Simla, the story is here treated as a great joke and written as a parody of the grand manner, very much tongue-in-cheek. We are given several clues as to Doola’s ancestry, not least the heading.
Apart from “The Dream of Duncan Parreness” later in this volume and “The Tomb of His Ancestors” (The Day’s Work) Kipling does not give us much of The Honourable the East India Company (familiarly known as “John Company”) an independent commercial organisation which - in effect - ruled India until power was transferred to the Crown by the Government of India Act in 1858. The Company had its own navy, and an army with so many Irishmen in its ranks that they were formed into Irish regiments after 1858.
See ORG Volume 2, pp.984 ff. for an account of the facts upon which this story is founded, after a battle during the Sikkim Expedition of 1888-1889.
Some critical comments
A contemporary reviewer, Francis Adams, essayist and minor poet (1862-1893) does not like this story; writing in the Fortnightly Review of November 1891 he says:
...Mr. Kipling asks too much of his most devoted admirers when he leaves them to try and justify the existence of "Namgay Doola" and "The Lang Men o’ Larut", and even "The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney". Balzac could not afford to sign his name to such rubbish. For Mr. Rudyard Kipling to do so, is to send snakes to strangle his reputation in its cradle. [Quoted in Green, (Ed.) Kipling, The Critical Heritage, p153.][Kipling was occasionally compared with the celebrated French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850); Ed.]
Commenting on the cutting off of the cow's tale as an act of revenge, Philip Mason (p. 304) regards the idea of a man inheriting an inclination to do this as ridiculous; but he concedes that: 'It would be a dull writer who displayed no contradictions.' Marghanita Laski, however, perhaps taking a more relaxed view of affairs, has no hesitation in calling the tale 'droll', and 'one of Kipling's finest stories about India' (p. 79).
See also Philip Mason (p. 142), and Angus Wilson (pp. 113 and 269).
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved