A Ballade of Bad Entertainment

(Notes edited by John McGivering)


ORG volume 8, p. 5196 (Verse No. 294.) records first publication in The Week’s News of 11 February 1888 as “A Ballade of Dak Bungalows”. The poem is collected in the Edition de Luxe vol. XVIII (Early Verse), in the Outward Bound Edition, in the Sussex Edition, volume 32, page 113, and the Burwash Edition, volume 25. It is also to be found in Rutherford’s edition of Early Verse (1986).

For this Guide we have used the text from the Edition de Luxe (p. 254), which includes some minor alterations in the original version, noted by Rutherford.  The notes with the text are Kipling;s own.

See David Richards (p. 142) for further details of publication.

The poem

For other Dak Bungalows see “The Mark of the Beast” (Life’s Handicap), and “My Own True Ghost-Story” (Wee Willie Waikie).


The poem, in strict ballade form—apart from the ‘a’s in the final syllables of the lines in the last stanza, acknowledged by the poet—celebrates the discomforts of travelling India as a correspondent. It uses many words in Hindustani which would have been familiar to Anglo-Indians but are explained for the uninitiated in footnotes. In particular the poem dwells on the appalling food one had to endure in a dak bungalow. As the refrain reiterates, there was never anything but tough and bony fowl for dinner, as Andrew Lycett (p. 153) recounts:

… accustomed to living out of a suitcase, he penned a wry poem in “A Ballade of Bad Entertainment”, also known as “A Ballade of Dak Bungalows,” about the primitive food available in government-run lodging houses.


The following extract is from from an article in the Kipling Journal 127/20 for September 1958, “Dak Bungalows”, by Lt.-Col. J. K. Stanford, O.B.E., M.C.:

Dak is, I believe, in Urdu, a word with two meanings—(a) stage on a road, as in stage-coach, and (b) post, as a postman usually ran or walked a stage and then was relieved by another man. In my day Dakwala was a postman or a Government messenger who brought letters.

Dak-bungalow was the word, lasting from Kipling’s to my time, for the Government bungalows put up for travellers along the main roads and principal district roads. Government officials had the first use of them and other people could only use them, and had to pay a fee, if they were not needed by officials. The users paid for supplies, fire-wood, grass, chickens, eggs, paraffin, which were supplied him and his ponies, etc., by the Khansamah, a sort of butler, or the Durwan, a care-

As nearly all travellers brought their own servants, stores and bedding, the bungalow usually provided tables, chairs, beds, crockery, lamps, etc. A register was kept in which the traveller had to record the date and time of his coming and going, and any payments made.

See also:


Notes on the Text

[Title] A ballade is a verse form ised as early as the 14th century, which typically consisted of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent metre and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain, and there is a fourth, concluding stanza, traditionally addressed to a ‘prince’.

Kipling, who loved to experiment with different verse forms and parody earlier poets, wrote several ballades, including “A Ballade of Burial” and “A Ballade of Jakko Hill” ,

[Verse 1]

Mandalay … Matheran The eastern and western extremities of Britain’s Indian Empire. Mandalay was the last royal capital of Burma, present-day Myanmar. Upper Burma was annexed by the British in 1886 when Lord Dufferin was Viceroy. For an account of the background to Kipling’s writings about Burma see “Kipling’s Burma, A Literary and Historical Review” by George Webb.

[For more on Kipling’s Burma see “Mandalay”, “The Grave of the Hundred Head”, “A Conference of the Powers” in Many Inventions, letters II to IV in From Sea to Sea,( Volume 1) and “The Ballad of Boh Da Thone.”]

Matheran The spelling varies. In Raigad district in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, it is in Karjat Tahsil, the smallest hill station in India.

Loaferdom the state of being a loafer or idler – a man with no job to go to – often living by his wits. Kipling writes of “The pleasures of loaferdom” in Letters of Marque XV (From Sea to Sea, Volume 1, page 144). Two loafers come to a dreadful end in “The Man who would be King”, in Wee Willie Winkie. See also “To be Filed for reference” in Plain Tales from the Hills.

Hindustan from the Persian, meaning ‘The Country of the Hindus’, usually taken to be part of the sub-continent, but often used for the whole of it. See Hobson-Jobson p. 416 under ‘Hindostan’.

gariwân ‘driver’, explained in a footnote in collected editions.

hostelry inn or public-house, a welcome place of refuge. The poet is sarcastic.

be iman ‘man without faith’, explained in a footnote in collected editions.

Khodawund, siruf murghia hai ‘Heaven-born, he is only dead’, explained in a footnote in collected editions.  ‘Heaven-born’ is frequently used by Kipling as an honoific between servants and their  masters.

The Persian word khudavind or khudawand means, “a king, prince, lord, master; or man of great authority.”

[Verse 2]

Sahib Lord, master, gentleman. Commonly used to address a European. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 781.

tufan ‘uproar’, explained in a footnote in collected editions.

élan vivacity, dash.

[Verse 3]

Janwar ki mishan ‘mark of the beast’, explained in a footnote in collected editions. See Kipling’s gruesome story of the same name in Life’s Handicap.

sailors’ yarn in this context probably the fibres of hemp, manilla etc. prepared for splicing etc..

uttr attar ‘perfume’, explained in a footnote in collected editions.

pan a nut wrapped in betel leaf for chewing. Explained in a footnote in collected editions.

mullah a Muslim cleric, several appear in the Indian stories

[L’Envoi ]

In old French poetry, an ‘envoi’ is a ‘conclusion’ or ‘result’, sometimes in the form of verses at the end of a literary composition to point a moral or dedicate the poem to a particular person. See our notes on “L’Envoi to Departmental Ditties“. Also see Chapter 7 of English Verse by R Alden, (Henry Holt & Co. New York, 1903)


[J R.]

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