This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 22 February 1887, with the signature ‘R.K.’ and the heading:
‘The meteoric shower of honours which has descended upon the just and unjust this year, not only makes it almost impossible for us to know “Who’s Who in ’87” but has driven some weaker minds to the edge of insanity.’ —Extract from a Calcutta letter.
The poem is included in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections. It was not later collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 365) and Pinney (p. 1845).
Kipling plays with all the new titles – and adds some of his own. He also takes up the idea in the heading that some weaker minds have been driven to the edge of insanity by this shower of honours descended upon the just and unjust.
The Honours would have been proposed by the Viceroy and his Council to the Queen. Rutherford writes:
1887 was the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and the Indian Government marked it by handing out an extraordinary profusion of honours. The Jubilee Honours List was published in Calcutta on 16 February and featured in the CMG on 18th. The Honours awarded included those of the Order of the Star of India (Knights Grand Commanders, Knights Commanders, Companions), the Order of the Indian Empire (Knights Commanders, Companions) and the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
Indian awards included titles of Hereditary Rajah, Sadh Nawab Bahadur, Rajah Bahadur, Nawab, Rajah, Rani, Khan Bahadur, Rai Bahadur, Rao Bahadur, Khan Sahib, etc.
A new title had also been created, by which recognition was given to eminent distinction in learning among Hindus and Muslims. For Hindus the title is Mahamahopadhyava and for Mahommedans Shams-ul-Ulama.
Notes on the Text
Sri honorific title for a man of substance.
C.S.I. Companion of the Order of the Star of India.
Borah Shroff Big Money-Lender.
B.C.S. Bengal Civil Service.
K.C.S.I. Knight Commander of the Star of India.
C.I.E. Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire.
C.E. Civil Engineer.
K.C.G.M.C.B. a conflation of K.C.M.G. (Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) and C.B. (Companion of the Order of the Bath).
Thakur Spink a pun on ‘Thakur’ meaning a Rajput noble, and Thacker Spink & Co., Kipling’s Calcutta publishers.
Sirdar Khansamah Chief Butler
Lords and Ladies gay from Sir Walter Scott’s Hunting Song.
Shwye ya Min This sounds Burmese, where ‘shwe’ means ‘golden’. (Information from readers will be welcomed: Ed.)
Daulat-Inglishia British rule.
Dukes a pun on ‘dukes’ as slang for ‘fists’, as in ‘Put up your dukes!’ Here perhaps meaning ‘handcuffs’ to restrain a madman.
©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved