First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 11 January 1886
Sussex Scrapbooks 28/1, p. 47
The way in which Kipling’s mind worked upon his experiences
is suggested by this brief item. Kipling was one of those writers who liked to take literary advantage of whatever came his way and could do so to surprising effect. Thinking on the puzzle of the stolen cricket ball may have led him to “The Story of Muhammad Din”, in which an equally useless polo ball is coveted by a child whose father obtains it for him. In the news story the ball is stolen; in the fiction it is a gift, but the question in both is, What good can it be? Kipling the journalist concludes that feeble-mindedness is the explanation; Kipling the writer of stories sees that a father’s love and a child’s desire are behind the mystery.
A virtuous bearer in the employ of Messrs Gillon and Co. has been convicted of stealing a cricket-ball, and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. What in the name of everything incongruous can a bearer want with a cricket-ball? He couldn’t very well eat it. I am absolutely certain that the Lahore Cricket Club does not buy cricket-balls from bearers. The students who play on the Volunteer parade-ground, near Gillon’s shop, seem to use cricket-balls of local manufacture. As a weapon, except in experienced hands, a cricket ball is useless, and there is not enough fuel in the whole of its composition to light a respectable hookah.
A mochi (leather-worker) wouldn’t buy it for the sake of its hide and sinews; and the most pushing of pawnbrokers wouldn’t advance a pie (small coin) upon it as an ‘article of common use or wearing apparel’. The man who would peril three months of his liberty for the sake of the best cricket-ball in creation is obviously weak in the intellect, and should be treated as such.