Collar-Wallah and the Poison Stick

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)



ORG Volume 5, page 2515 records the first appearance of this item in the United States in St. Nicholas of February 1893. It is collected in the Sussex Edition volume 30, and the Burwash Edition volume 30. Related verse includes “Divided Destinies”, “The Legends of Evil”, and “Road-Song of the Bandar-Log”.

The story

The narrator, who in this instance may well be Kipling himself, is plagued by a mischievous monkey, wearing a collar round his neck who – obviously escaped from captivity – steals things from his bedroom and generally makes a nuisance of himself. The narrator then goes what is now called pony-trekking on the road to Tibet with his pony, one servant and some coolies to carry the baggage, but no proper camping equipment.

He spends the night in a farmer’s hut and hears the story of how his crops are stolen by a troop of monkeys led by one wearing a collar round his neck. The position is somewhat complicated as the farmer is a Mohammedan converted from Hinduism who – if he acts against the monkeys – will be killed by his Hindu neighbours to whom the creatures are sacred. However, in desperation he tries to poison the monkeys with arsenic, only to find that – led by Collar-Wallah – they successfuly beat the poison out of the food by using green twigs. The farmer was beaten.

When the narrator eventually returns to Simla he finds the monkey waiting for him in the drive and tells him that he will be shot dead if he causes any more trouble. The monkey departs and the narrator never sees him again.


The story is based on real-life events related by John Lockwood Kipling in Chapter 3 “Of Monkeys” in his Beast and Man in India which also contains the picture of langurs at the head of the page, together with notes on the origins of “Divided Destinies”, “The Legends of Evil” and other verse.

See also Charles Allen (p. 323) who also tells how Kipling, on leave in Simla in May 1885, wrote an account of his travels on the road to Tibet, where he also found the story of “Lispeth” first of the Plain Tales from the Hills. (Allen. p. 187)

Notes on the Text

monkeys any of a large and varied group of mammals of the primate order. They have common features – . all are excellent climbers, most live in trees and are found in in tropical or subtropical climates. They are mainly active in the daytime.

Wallah strictly speaking, according to Hobson-Jobson (p. 239) this is an abbreviation of ‘Competition-Wallah’, a member of the Indian Civil Service who entered by passing the examination instituted in 1856. However, ‘Wallah’ alone has a multitude of meanings which Charles Allen (p. 401) has reduced to ‘man’. This seems to be the usual meaning today.

Simla This small mountain town was the summer capital of India until 1911, and the scene of many of the Indian stories; see ‘the imperial city of Simla’ in our Notes to “ Mrs. Hauksbee Sits Out”. See also Charles Allen Chapter 5.

langurs Big leaf-eating monkeys of South Asia. See the drawing by John Lockwood Kipling at the head of the page.

organ-grinder a street entertainer of the period, who turned the handle of a barrel- organ to produce popular music. An organ-grinder might welll have a tame monkey with him to help attract attention. See “The Puzzler” (Actions and Reactions) and Something of Myself, page 150;

sacred beasts Many of the animals of India are in one way or another sacred to the people. See Lockwood Kipling’s Beast and Man in India. See also “The Bridge Builders” (The Day’s Work) (p. 28) in which Finlayson, the Chief Engineer of the great Kashi Bridge, encounters various gods in the shape of sacred beasts:

The Bull crouched beside the shrine, and there leaped from the darkness a monstrous grey Ape, who seated himself man-wise in the place of the fallen image, and the rain spilled like jewels from the hair of his neck and shoulders. Other shadows came and went behind the circle, among them a drunken Man flourishing staff and drinking-bottle. Then a hoarse bellow broke out from near the ground. “The flood lessens even now,” it cried. “Hour by hour the water falls, and their bridge still stands!”

as the knights used to do Knights were members of chivalrous orders in mediaeval Europe, who traditionally rescued maidens, killed dragons and accomplished other noble deeds, the very stuff of fairy-tale and legend. See “Weland’s Sword”, “Young Men at the Manor” and other stories in Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies.

Dolly Bobs a temperamental she-pony. See Something of Myself p. 58.

shied in this context, moved abruptly when startled.

Vixen Kipling’s much-loved fox-terrier. She also appears in “Garm, a Hostage” (Actions and Reactions), and “Her Majesty’s Servants” (The Jungle Book). and other Indian stories.

the road that leads to Tibet
(known as the Hindustan-Tibet Road or Himalayan-Tibet Road) runs from Simla to Chini, Fagu, Theog, Matina, Narkunda, Kotgarth (see below) and Rampur.

borax hydrated sodium borate used in bleaches and washing-powders.

Kotgarth scene of “Lispeth” (Plain Tales from the Hills).

pork regarded as unclean by Jews as well as Muslims.

water-pipe the classic hookah of the East; the one in the story is improvised from a bottle that once held a liquid for cleaning boots and shoes. Nothing is wasted in India.

Hanuman the monkey-god.

arsenic a poisonous by-product of various metallurgical processes.

Padishah (the spelling varies) from the Persian for ‘throne’ and ‘prince’, meaning ‘Emperor’ (Hobson-Jobson, page 652.) and so Commander-in-Chief or General.

cowrie (the spelling varies) the small white shell of Cypraea moneta used as corrency and elsewhere in parts of Africa and South Asia. (See Hobson-Jobson, page 269).

[J. H. McG.]

©John McGivering 2009 All rights reserved