(Notes edited by
Alan Underwood and John Radcliffe)
|notes on the text|
How the mugger-crocodile recalls the delights of his exploration of the Ganges when the Mutiny brought down such a wonderful harvest of drowned bodies is one of the most extraordinary passages in The Jungle Book.In an earlier chapter Angus Wilson refers (p. 94) to the close connection between this story and "The Bridgebuilders" in The Day's Work:
...when the mugger says, "I was faint with hunger. Since the railway bridge was built my people at my village have ceased to love me; and that is breaking my heart." The crocodile's protest, like Mother Ganga's to the Gods, is the protest of Indian natural life against the British order and civilisation, but whereas the Gods are shown to be of longer duration than any British rule (though even they are only part of Brahma's dream), the mugger is wholly evil. And he is destroyed at the end by a bullet from the bridge engineer's gun - 'he took about fifteen of my coolies while the bridge was building, and it's time he was put a stop to.'Mark Paffard (p. 91) also writes of this story as expressing Kipling's apprehension of the dark side of India:
But the bridge engineer as a baby had been nearly eaten by the mugger, when escaping with his mother from the horrors of the Mutiny. The floating bodies of that time on which the mugger recounts that he feasted seems to me to prove that the story (and "The Bridge Builders", for surely the engineers are the same men) concerns the Ganges, since the association of bodies with a river is something that is indelibly left by seeing the burning ghats. In any case, together, the two stories are the most powerful evocations of the glory (the company of the Gods) and the horror (the 'Undertakers') of the Indian natural scene that awoke such fabulous balance in Kipling's imagination.
The jungle that Kipling creates for Mowgli is a curious amalgam. It is a place to be explored with the relish of childhood, and yet an evocation of a stereotypical 'India' of dark luxuriance and hidden danger. In The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) we can observe, clinging to the lessons that are absorbed, the dark and treacherous side of 'India' that is only finally dispensed with in Kim. Outside the 'Mowgli' stories themselves, it is most noticeable in the gruesome animal story "The Undertakers", the only work in which Kipling comments directly on the 'Indian Mutiny' of 1857.