The Bisara of Pooree

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Plain Tales from the Hills, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.


[Heading] A four-line verse, attributed to The Chorus of the Bisara.

[Page 261, line 2] Kulu a pleasant fertile and very beautiful valley in Kangra District among the foothills of the Himalayas, some seventy miles north of Simla where Kulu fruit and vegetables find a market, though in those days at two miles an hour by bullock cart they may not al;ways have been fresh. Kulu figures in a number of Kipling’s stories; in Kim it was the home district of the Sabiha, and of the mother of the Amritzar girl in the same story, and the Lama had come by Kulu to Lahore when his first chela died. It was the home of the Queen who was the mother of the Maharaj Kunwar in The Naulahka, and of Purun Das in “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” in The Second Jungle Book. Legend says it was once called Kulanthapita, and Penelope Chetwode’s book The End of the Habitable World (Murray, 1972), calls it one of the most beautiful valleys in the world.

[Page 261, line 2] Sapphire a deep blue transparent gem variety of corundum; aluminium oxide with small amounts of iron and titanium which give it colour. The whereabouts of the Temple referred to is not known, nor is the existence of an eleven-inch sapphire.

[Page (261, line 3] Ao-Chung location in Tibet not identified.

[Page 261, line 4] Kafir an inhabitant of Kafiristan in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. Some believe its people are descended from five soldiers of the army of Alexander the Great, King of Macedon in northern Greece in ancient times, whose armies advanced into the Indian sub-continent as far as the River Oxus. See also the notes on “His Chance in Life”, p. 77, earlier in this volume, and “The Man who would be King”.

[Page 261, line 5] Gurkha an inhabitant of the Kingdom of Nepal – a race of hardy mountaineers of Rajput descent who fought the East India Company in 1814–1818. The Company obtained possession of the southern slopes of the Himalayas, but the independence of Nepal was recognised by Britain. Thousands of Gurkhas enlisted in the British Army over the years, providing some of the finest soldiers in the world. (See “In the Presence” in A Diversity of Creatures, “Winning the Victoria Cross” in Land and Sea Tales, and “The Drums of the Fore and Aft” in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories.)

[Page 261, line 5] Lahouli an inhabitant of Lahoul (or Lahaul), in the Himalayas between Kulu and Zanskar.

[Page 261, line 6] khitmatgar a (usually) Muslim servant who waits at table – a butler.

[Page 261, line 8] Pooree a town in Orissa at the mouth of the Mahanadi River

[Page 261, line 17] Hanlé in Thibet, 160 miles N E of Simla, near the Upper Indus.

[Page 262, line 1] balas-rubies or precious Spinels – stones of alumina and magnesia, a little softer than the true ruby, red in various shades; the deeper are known as ruby spinel, the lighter as balas ruby. (Harmsworth)

[Page 262, line 5] king-cobra a poisonous snake of the genus Naja found in South Asia and elsewhere. See “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” in The Jungle Book, “The King’s Ankus” in The Second Jungle Book, and the poem “Poison of Asps”.

[Page 262, line 16] Nizam’s Horse cavalry belonging to the reigning prince of the Hyderabad Territories in the Deccan, some 82,700 square miles in area, between the Bombay and Madras Presidencies.

[Page 262, line 17] Tuprani about 50 miles from Hyderabad.

[Page 262, line 25] hack-pony a pony for hire.

[Page 262, line 29] goitre enlargement of the thyroid gland which produces a swelling in the neck, caused by a deficiency of iodine or toxic goitre (thyrotoxicosis) caused by overactivity of the thyroid gland. (Black)

[Page 262, line 30] Theog about twelve miles N W of Simla, on the way to Kotgarth.

[Page 263, line 3] Assistant Commissioner known as a Deputy Commissioner in some Districts

[Page 263, line 5] knew how to believe He is somewhat akin to Trejago in “Beyond the Pale” earlier in this volume – a man who also knew too much for his own good, unlike Strickland, who used his knowledge to good effect.

[Page 263, line 15] fifty-shilling(s) Before Britain adopted decimal currency; there were twenty shillings to the pound sterling. This was thus two pounds and ten shillings; this would now be shown as £2.50. It was a cheap sword.

[Page 263, line 28] marry by Code In those times a man would normally look for a girl from his own social class, and a woman (or her mother)would look for money and security. Status and class were very important issues in Anglo-Indian society.

See “Without Benefit of Clergy” in Life’s Handicap, and in this volume the notes on “Kidnapped” (page 132 line 27), “Lispeth”, “Cupid’s Arrows”, “Miss Youghal’s Sais”, and “Beyond the Pale”, which begins: “A man should…keep to his own caste, race and creed…”

[Page 264, lines 11-13] decisions were being reversed… His court-cases were overturned by superior courts.

[Page 264, line 15] out of sorts not very well.

[Page 264, line 17] Simla Club the U.S.C. (United Services Club), a residential club for men, above the Mall, in the middle of Simla.

[Page 264, line 26] an echoing-room This is reminiscent of the curious acoustic effect in “The Broken-link Handicap” earlier in this volume, and the ‘Whispering Gallery’ in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Colonel L.B. Grant, C.I.E., T.D., was Secretary of the Simla Club for some twenty-five years, and had served in the same Territorial Battalion of The Buffs as the late Major R.E. Harbord, who edited the original Readers’ Guide which we are now revising. Harbord asked Grant about this passage, and received the following reply in April 1955.

“I dined in that room for twenty-seven years but could never tease an echo
from any part of it, Assisted by friends we tried all permutations and
combinations of tables all round the room but never an echo. The walls are
panelled five feet high in deodar wood and the flat ceiling is also of deodar
and the construction of the room is anti-echo in every way. Contrary to the
statement – ‘Come in, turn to your own left, take the table under the window,
and you cannot see anyone who has come in, turned to the right, and taken a
table in (sic) the right side of the arch..’ Actually you can see everyone who has
come in.”

So the echo, essential to the plot, was evidently artistic licence on the part of Kipling.

[Page 265, line 4] tiffin lunch.

[Page 265, line 13] Solomon son of David and third King of Israel; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs in the Old Testament are attributed to him.
Kipling writes of him (as ‘Suleiman bin Daoud’) in “The Butterfly that Stamped” in Just So Stories and in the poems “The Merchantmen” and “Banquet-night”.

[page 265, line 14] Ashtaroth the Cananite and Phoenician goddess of love and fertility called Astarte by the Greeks; with the male god Baal, the sacred prostitution in her temples attracted the attention of Solomon. (See Judges 2,13; Judges 10,6; 1 Samuel 7, 3–4; 1 Kings 11,5 and 33.)

[Page 265, line 16] zenana The apartments where the women are secluded within a house. The Persian zenana is from zan meaning ‘woman’.

[Page 265, line 20] mantelpiece Fireplaces were necessary as Simla was cold in winter.

[Page 266, line 6] steal-…little things This is a touch of sarcasm, implying – perhaps – that stealing in a big way is often good business.

[Page 266, line 8] tailor here used in a derogatory sense. ‘…as a tailor is not so robust and powerful as the ordinary run of men, it requires more than one to match a man.’ (Brewer)

[Page 266, line 12] a man on the Government House List A man who is invited to functions.
See the note to “Miss Youghal’s Sais” at p. 29, line 22.

[Page 266, line 19] Benmore a private house in Simpa built in the mid 1850s, with a ballroom added later. Used as the Freemasons’ Hall, with a skating-rink built in 1875, it became a place of entertainment until 1885 when it was taken over as offices for the Punjab government. Kipling mourned its loss with “The Plea of the Simla Dancers”.

[Page 267, line 6] ‘rickshaw reputedly from the Japanese jin-riki-sha meaning ‘man-strength-cart’. A light two-wheeled carriage pulled by a man: much used in Asia. (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 267, line 17] Madras…no great harm Madras, the great port in south-eastern India, and the capital of the Presidency of the same name. Kipling is indulging in a little sarcasm which would strike a chord with his Anglo-Indian readers in Lahore in the Punjab.

[Page 267, line 21] the Cart Road to the South of the Mall in Simla, both rougher and steeper. This was the road in and out of Simla before the railway came.

[Page 267, line 29] Gubernatis Angelo De Gubernatis (1840–1913), Italian author and professor of Sanskrit at Florence. His many works included Piccola enciclopedia indiane (1867) and Maunale della Litteratuta Indiana (1887).

[Page 287, line 29] Max Müller Friedrich Max-Müller (1823–1900), orientalist and philologist; he edited the Rig-Veda, one of the great sacred texts of Hinduism, for the East India Company, and The Sacred Books of the East (with translations) in forty-nine volumes.

[J. McG.]