In Flood Time

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG, with additional material on medical matters by Dr Gillian Sheehan, and on military matters by Lt-Colonel Roger Ayers (RCA). The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Soldiers Three and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Heading] An anonymous poem in Scottish dialect known variously as “Two Rivers” and “Border Rivers”, the wording in each version differing slightly, but translating as follows:

Tweed said to Till:
‘What makes you run so still?’
Till said to Tweed:
‘Though you run with speed
And I run slow –
Where you drown one man
I drown two.’

The River Tweed divides England from Scotland, Till is a tributary.

[Page 293, line 3] ekka a light pony-trap – driver and passenger sit cross-legged on a platform above the wheels.

[Page 293, line 5] ford-elephant used where there was no boat – they swim well and stand some 13 feet (4M.) tall. The ford would generally be about waist-deep for adults – women and children would ride on the elephant.

[Page 293, line 6] Ohe, mahout Ohe is a shout to attract attention, the mahout is the elephant-driver.

[Page 290, line 9]  a full half kos from bank to bank  about a mile. A kos was a Mughal unit of distance, of some  two miles. It was a big river.

[Page 293, line 9] Kala Nag Black Snake – also the name of an elephant in “Toomai of the Elephants” (The Jungle Book).

[Page 293, line 12] mahoutji ji is not really translatable but can be considered as a polite and friendly suffix even though the tone changes in lines 14 and 16.

[Page 293, line 15] goad the classic implement of the elephant-driver. (right)

[Page 294, line 1] Rustum the Persian Hercules whose exploits are a favourite theme of Persian and English poets, see “Sohrab and Rustum” by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) and “Omar Khayyam” translated by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883.)

[Page 294, line 7] Barhwi A river that we have not found in the Gazetteer of India, but the word is a verb, meaning “to flood.”

[Page 294, line 9] Bahadur from the Hindi – a Hero or Champion.

[Page 294, line 11] Salaam a courteous gesture or word of salutation, again discussed at length in Hobson-Jobson.

[Page 294, line 12] Sirkar in this context, the Government or other authority.

[Page 294, line 23] fire-carriage the railway-train. So called in “The Bridge-Builders” (The Day’s Work), Kim and elsewhere.

[Page 295, line 5] numah-tree [not traced – information will be welcomed; Ed.]

[Page 295, line 10] drink my tobacco the smoke in a hookah is drawn through water in the flask, through the flexible tube and the “mouthpiece” which does not go in the mouth but is held in the clenched fist with the first finger and thumb applied to the lips , so the tube can be shared without risk of infection.

[Page 295, line 11] Nuklao a nickname for Lucknow, where Kim went to school. ORG believes the ford might be near there.

[Page 295, line 14] like a Musalman see Note to line 10 above.

[Page 295, line 15] Wah ! an exclamation of admiration.

[Page 295, line 24] bunjaras gipsies, carters and entertainers who also appear in “Letters of Marque” XVI (From Sea to Sea, vol. 1, p. 161)

[Page 295, line 25] pack-bullocks castrated bulls, used here as transport-animals.

[Page 295, line 27] a hundred lakhs of maunds a lakh is 100,000, a maund varies in different parts of India but assuming it is about two pounds avoirdupois (.907 kilos) one hundred million maunds would be 8900-odd tons (9,000 tonnes) The speaker is exaggerating.

[Page 295, line 32] The boulders are talking rocks in the bed of the stream would be rolled about by the current, making a surprisingly musical sound. See page 300, line 27 below.

[Page 296, line 1] husking stripping off the outside covering.

[Page 296, line 3] Wahi ! Ahi ! Ugh ! exclamations of discomfort and cold – much the same in any language !

[Page 296, line 9] half kos the coss or kos varied in length, like the old Irish and Scottish miles, and seems to signify anything from one to two Statute Miles of 1,760 yards (1.61-3.22 km). It comes from the Sanskrit krosa “a call,” meaning the distance at which a man’s call could be heard. See Hobson-Jobson pp.261-2 ) for an interesting discussion of the variations and origins.

[Page 296, line 19] tenfold worse than this ORG comments that the river is now one mile wide and ten feet deep at the ford and was much worse during the flood of thirty years ago. One Editor (P.A.S.Charles.) remembers floods similar to this washing bridges away. See the text at page 299, lines 25 onwards.

[Page 297, line 1] the bell-bullock the leader and probably the best animal in the herd.

[Page 297, lines 15 – 19] a thin fire… down the stream etc. the river obviously meanders about the countryside but it is impossible to identify it from the information provided.

[Page 297, line 16] Hanuman the monkey-god – see “The Mark of the Beast” (Life’s Handicap) and “The Bridge-Builders” (The Day’s Work).

[Page 297, line 17] North, under the big star Kipling was sometimes mistaken in his astronomy – see “The Man who Was” (Life’s Handicap) where he wrongly puts the North Star over the Khyber Pass and the verse “Mandalay” where he misplaces a pagoda.

[Page 297, line 22] muggers crocodiles.

[Page 297, line 23] Love knows no caste an echo of the “Hindu Proverb” over “Beyond the Pale” (Plain Tales from the Hills):

Love heeds not caste nor sleep a broken bed.
I went in search of love and lost myself.

[Page 297, line 28] Muttra Matthra – one of the seven Holy Cities of the Hindus.

[Page 297, line 28] She to refer to a lady as “She” was considered impolite in England, and still is in some quarters, but here the storyteller is referring, with respect, to his love.

[Page 297, line 29] newly a bride these were the days in India when children of five or six were married but did not co-habit until they were a little older.

[Page 297, line 30] bullock-cart such a cart is illustrated at p. 100 of Kim.

[Page 298, line 4] Jain a strict sect based on sympathy and compassion for all living things. In Kim the Lama stays at a Jain temple in Benares.

[Page 298, line 5] I would have married Her Hindu widows were not permitted to remarry and usually became unpaid household drudges like the unfortunate Bisesa in “Beyond the Pale” mentioned above.

[Page 298, line 6] The Seventh of the Nine Bars they prohibit the marriage of foster-brothers and sisters and others.

[Page 298, line 8] Shiahs Muslims who regard Ali, Mohammed’s cousin, as his successor.

[Page 298, line 9] Sunnis Muslims who did not recognise Ali or his descendants, but elected another as their spiritual leader.

[Page 298, lines 12 – 15] … neither Shiah nor Sunni… etc echoes of “The Ballad of East and West”:

…But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth !


There is also an echo of Romans, 8, 38:

Nor height. nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.


[Page 298, line 30] karaits deadly little rock-snakes – Bungarus caeruleus. “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” catches one (The Jungle Book), and Badahur Khan dies when bitten by another, in “The Return of Imray.” (Life’s Handicap).

[Page 299, line 12] tobacco Moslems may smoke, but must not drink alcohol; Sikhs, a military sect settled mainly in the Punjab may drink but not smoke.

[Page 299, line 29] chupatty Hindi chapaty – unleavened pancake-like bread, usually make of coarse wheaten meal; the staple food of Upper India. (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 300, line 4] deodar Cedrus deodara, the large and handsome tree found in north-west India, the Himalayas and elsewhere.

[Page 301, line 3 – 30] driftwood was piled there etc this would act as a dam and impede the flow of the water which would back up and push a section of the bridge off its piers, even if, presumably, the girders were slotted into the stonework. See page 302, line 14.

[Page 301, line 21] lattice-work a trellis of iron or steel forming the sides of the bridge.

[Page 302, line 8] Mirzapore stone-boat municipality and capital of the District of the same name on the right bank of the Ganges, thirty miles from Benares, with quarries.

[Page 302, line 9] careens he means “heels”. Careening is putting a vessel ashore and heaving her over with tackles from the mast-heads for cleaning and / or repairs to the bottom. (The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, Ed. Peter Kemp, 1976.)

[Page 302, line17] knotted hair Male Sikhs have a top-knot or “bun” usually hidden under the turban or other headwear.

[Page 302. line 21] he rode high the gases of decomposition would inflate his stomach.

[Page 303, line 3] tamarisk Tamarix gallica, a hardy shrub usually found in deserts and poor, salty soil.

[Page 303, lines 32 –33] footnote this is one of only three footnotes (we believe) in Kipling’s fiction – the others are on pages 19 and 22 of “Dayspring Mishandled” in Limits and Renewals.

[Page 304, line 9] a gunshot depending on the type and age of the gun, anything from 30 yards to a mile or so – probably the former.

[Page 304, line 15] the burning-ghat the riverside where the bodies of the dead were cremated.

[Page 304, line 26] two kos see the note to page 296, line 9 above

[Page 305, line 33] paulin tarpaulin – a waterproof sheet.

[Page 305, line 9] Dutt! the order for an elephant to kneel so passengers and luggage can get aboard.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering and Gillian Sheehan 2005 All rights reserved