In an Opium Factory

First Publication

16th April, 1888 in the Pioneer and 17th April, 1888 in the Pioneer Mail.


Kipling probably visited this opium factory in January 1888, on his rail journey from Allahabad to Calcutta, shortly before the start of the spring opium production season. Andrew Lycett notes in his biography Rudyard Kipling, Chapter VII, ‘Allahabad and Home (1887-1889)’ on page 208 of the Phoenix paperback, that Kipling visited Harry Rivett-Carnac here. He was an old friend of the Kipling family, and had secured the position of Opium Agent at Ghazipur on a salary of 3,000 rupees a month, equivalent to £2,700 per annum then, and five times as much as Kipling was earning at the time. This reflected the highly profitable nature of the trade.

Kipling had himself used opium, both as a recreational drug and a medicine. See Andrew Lycett, pp. 96-7. See also “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows” in Plain Tales from the Hills.

The visit to Calcutta is described in “The City of Dreadful Night”, also in this volume 2 of From Sea to Sea. See the Introduction in this Guide to these volumes for more information about his journey, also the Map of ‘Kipling’s India’, and the 1902 Map of North East India.

Opium is still produced in India under careful government control as a raw material for pharmaceuticals. See Wikipedia.

The Critics

The only critic that we have found who discusses this work is Andrew Hagiioannu (pp.46-48). He sees subtleties and nuances in this report, for example:

… (as) a way of infuriating his liberal opponents, Kipling was happy to explain the workings of the Ghazipur factory, focussing apparently nonchalantly upon ‘the actual manufacture and manipulation of the cakes.’
In fact the language of the essay is far subtler than this comment implies. It operates on a number of levels, suggesting firstly the great beauty, the poetry of the manufacturing process. . .

The actions of the cake-maker – and the factory as a whole – are described sensually, with a strange love for the process. Kipling allows this notion to play very ironically against the official Government terminology of the piece.


Notes on the Text

[Page 331, line 2] Ghazipur or Ghazipore, lies along the Ganges downstream from Benares (now Varanasi). 1992 photograph of the factory at [See a 1992 photograph of the factory on the Internet].

[Page 331, line 11] challans a challan is a maximum of 100 containers of opium. The term was still in use in 2001 for 100 HDPE containers each containing 35 kg of opium. See this web-site for an interesting modern description.

Challan is also a word for a form such as a bank or tax paying-in slip. From the amount of form-filling at Ghazipur described by Kipling in this article, there could be a linguistic link between the challan container and the forms used to record its history.

[Page 331, line 12] maund this weight varied so much in India and other parts of Asia, that it was standardised for India at 82 2/7 lbs avoirdupois, equivalent to 37.32 kg. (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 332, line 14] purkhea a native expert in assessing the purity of opium.

[Page 332, line 14] said sooth an archaic English word meaning ‘in truth’ or ‘verily’. In this context, if the opium examiner agrees with the purkhea’s assessment, then the jar is marked accordingly.

[Page 333, line 8] one hundred grains A ‘grain’ is a measure of ‘troy weight’. There were 7000 grains to one pound avoirdupois, and therefore 100 grains was equivalent to 0.0143 lbs or 6.48 grams.

[Page 334, line 33] chandu or chandoo. Opium. See also “The City of Dreadful Night”, chapter VII, page 249, line 16.

[Page 335, line 3] Chandu-khana opium house or opium den, where people could go to smoke the drug. See “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows” in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 335, line 12] Sirdar a commander – in this context, an overseer of workmen or foreman.

[Page335, line 16] Cape tobacco from South Africa.

[Page 335, line 23] chittack Hobson-Jobson gives the table of Indian weights as being:

  • one maund = 40 ser (or seer)
  • one ser = 16 chittacks

[Page 336, line 26] chupatti or chapatti, a thin pancake of unleavened bread. However, the reference here is to part of the opium petal cake that has the appearance of a chupatti.

[Page 336, lines 29 & 30] Celestials of the Middle Kingdom Chinamen.

[Page 336, lines 31 & 32] two seers one and three-quarter chittacks, with a play of half a chittack 1.968 kg plus or minus 0.029 kg.

[Page 337, line 5] Patna a city on the Ganges, downstream of Ghazipur about halfway to Jamalpur.

[Page 337, line 33] Smyrna a city in Turkey on the western Mediterranean coast – now known as Izmir. [ORG].

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