First published in Life’s Handicap in 1891, and believed by the compilers of ORG to be founded on fact.
Abdur Rahman, the absolute ruler of Afghanistan, is dispensing justice. A thief is brought before him, who had stolen three rupees. ‘Why did you steal ?’ … ‘I was hungry and there was no food’ … ‘Why did you not work ?’ … ‘I could find no work.’ … ‘You lie’, says the Amir.
Then Abdur Rahman tells how in his ‘evil days’ he had been poor, hunted, and penniless, had tried to borrow three rupees from a moneylender and been given less, and had laboured as a coolie for four annas a day to keep himself from starvation. He sentences the thief to death; ‘The whole of him was seen no more together’.
In March 1885 Kipling was sent by his paper, the Civil and Military Gazette, to cover the meeting between the Amir of Afghanistan and the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin.
See Andrew Lycett, (p. 104) and “Her Majesty’s Servants” (The Jungle Book), ‘To meet the Emir’ ( Kipling’s India, Uncollected Sketches, ed. Pinney p. 77) and Something of Myself (p. 44).
Some critical comments
Norman Page (p. 65) calls this: ‘a slight piece’, regardless of this rather frightening sight of an absolute ruler at work.
See also the poems “The Ballad of the King’s Mercy”, and “The Ballad of the King’s Jest”, which
Angus Wilson in his examination of this story and others in the same vein (p. 105) calls two powerful neglected poems, in which he believes Kipling found a terrible version of Stalkyism:
Where the rough and ready practical joke may put things right in the simple, harsh world of boarding-schools, torture and prolonged death agonies are authority’s jest in Afghanistan where the slightest threat to the throne may shatter all rule and let loose tribal anarchy.
See also Shamsul Islam (p. 33) on ‘The Islamic Tradition in Kipling’s Work.’
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved