His Chance in Life

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in 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.

[Page 77, Heading] Then a pile of heads he laid Collected in Volume II of the three-volume Poems, 1886–1929 and in Definitive Verse, p. 507, with “thousand.” In line 2.

[Heading, line 3] Kafir One of the ‘Kafir’ people of the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. See A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. See also our notes on “The Man who Would be King”.

[Heading, line 4] The Oxus the great river in Central Asia, also known as the Amu Darya, running from Lake Victoria in the Pamir highlands to the Sea of Aral, and forming the boundary between Turkestan and Afghanistan for some 700 miles.

[Page 77, line 1] Levées a levée is, originally ”a getting out of bed” which was an elaborate ceremony at the French court (See Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Refugees, Ch 2) and later came to mean a reception by an important personage, in this case the Viceroy of India.

Government House Lists an address-book kept by the staff of the Viceroy or Governor containing the names and addresses of the people who would be invited to functions. (See what old Youghal said in “Miss Youghal’s Sais” for the consequences of ostracism. Also the verse “One Viceroy Resigns.”)

[Page 77, line 2] Trades’ Balls people in trade were looked upon as rather vulgar by the army and civil servants in India and they tended not to mix if it could be avoided. Kipling has endeavoured to show the depths and heights of Indian society, including
the unpleasant truth that people of mixed blood were not socially acceptable to Europeans at that time even if they had been in earlier days.

[Page 78, line 1] Derozio Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, author of Poems (1827), Fakeer of Jungheera and other Poems (1828), and Collected Poems (edited by B B Shah in 1907) all published in Calcutta.

[Page 78, line 9] nurse Kipling’s own ayah (nurse) was a Portuguese Roman Catholic {See Something of Myself page 1)

[Page 78, line 27] tussur–silk an inferior silk from the tusar worm, which appears to be a kind of wild silkworm. [Hobson-Jobson]

[Page 78, lines 29 and 30] these five names are Portuguese.

[Page 78, line 33] petticoat in this context a garment worn under a woman’s skirt or dress.

[Page 79, line 1] pewter crucifixes figures of Jesus Christ nailed to the Cross which are made of an alloy of tin and lead, or tin copper and antimony, and cheaper than silver or other precious metals.

immortelles in this context one of such plants as the genera Helichrysum, Xeranthemum, and Erythrina, having flowers that retain their shape and colour when dried.

[Page 79, line 2] the Virgin Mary the Mother of Christ.

[Page 79, line 3] 20 Rupees a month about £18 a year, rather less than the wage of many household servants of the time. She was not a very high class nurse.

[Page 79, line 8] make love in those days merely verbal expressions of affection.

[Page 79, line 13] huqa a hubble-bubble water pipe.

Here Mahub Ali, the Pathan horse dealer, in one of Lockwood Kipling’s illustrations for Kim, has a huqa behind him.

[Page 79, line 17] platelayer a track-maintenance man on the railway so called because in the very early days the trains ran on plates of iron laid over timber


[Page 79, line 20] Telegraph Signaller he sent and received telegrams by Morse code.

[Page 79, line 24] Dom the Portuguese form of “Don” meaning
“Sir” or “Mister,” also given to certain Catholic dignitaries and members of monastic orders.

[Page 79, line 25] Poonani more usually “Ponnani” on the Malabar Coast of south-western India.

[Page 79, line 26] Cochin a feudatory state near Ponnain on the South-West with a tradition of an early Jewish settlement.

[Page 79, line 30] seven rupees eight annas a month This was about a quarter of the wages of a household servant at the time, so he was not being ungenerous.

[Page 80, line 4] 50 rupees a month £45 a year – a fair rate of pay for the job, nearly twice what a household servant would earn. But a skilled engineering foreman on the Indian railways earned over four times as much, some 225 rupees a month.

[Page 80, line 21] In nomine sanctissimæ In the Name of the Most Holy…

[Page 80, line 28] ‘Intermediate’ a special class on some trains – between Second and Third, very uncomfortable; see “The Man who Would be King” in Wee Willie Winkie p. 202, line 1.

[Page 80, line 30] Backergunge a District about 120 miles East of Calcutta.

[Page 80, line 31] Tibasu not large enough to be shewn on general maps of India.

[Page 80, line 33] Berhampur to Chicacola on the coast of the Northern Circars on the Bay of Bengal.

[Page 81, line 3] Bengali Babu a term of respect like “Mister” that came to mean a literate man from Bengal usually employed as an English-speaking clerk. Kipling’s prime example was Hurree Chunder Mookerjee who plays an important role in Kim. See also “What Happened”, “The Ballad of Boh Da Thone” and “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows.”

[Page 81, line 14] Orissa now a State on the Bay of Bengal

[Page 81, line 15] Collector-Sahib the chief administrative official of an Indian District. One appears in “The Judgement of Dungara”, in Soldiers Three.

[Page 81, line 17] Mohurrum the name of the first month of the Mohammedan lunar year and, in India, applied to the fasting and public mourning during that month to commemorate the deaths of Hassan and his brother Husain (A.D, 669 and 680) [Hobson-Jobson]

[Page 81, line 21] Donnybrook a riotous assembly like the fair near Dublin, where there was always fighting.

[Page 81, line 28] the ‘ah-yah’ of an angry crowd see “ The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat” and “As Easy as A.B.C.” in A Diversity of Creatures for other examples of the psychology of crowds.

[Page 82, line 14] smooth-bore muskets these would have been the old muzzle-loading weapons once used by the army. The police in “At Howli Thana” in Soldiers Three had rifles, but muskets could well have been used at a small post like Tibasu.

Alastair Wilson writes: the smooth-bore musket, ‘Brown Bess’, goes back to Marlborough’s days in the early 18th century, when she was a flintlock piece, but when the percussion cap came into general use in the 1820s or thereabouts, she got ‘modernised’ to take caps.

In his poem “Brown Bess”, Kipling refers to ‘her’ as “an outspoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade”. The sub-heading to the poem is The Army Musket 1700-1815, but the British army was still largely armed with the old ‘Brown Bess’ musket at the start of the Crimean War in 1854.

The first rifle for general issue was the Enfield 1855 pattern rifle. (This was the rifle which was allegedly one of the causes of the Indian Mutiny) But out in the (Indian) sticks, there were undoubtedly old muskets – sometimes referred to as ‘Tower’ muskets – of the old pattern, still around for years afterwards.
Roger Ayers writes: Percussion cap muskets, both rifled and smooth-bore, were available in plenty in the late 19th century and an economy-minded administration of the 1880s is unlikely to have introduced modern weapons unless it had to.

As an example of their persistence in use, Army Headquarters, India, in its report Operations in Waziristan, 1919-1920, estimated that the Wazirs and Mahsuds could, in 1921, still arm about 22,000 of their 39,000 fighting men with rifles, adding “… and this takes no account of smooth-bores and other obsolete weapons, of which there are sufficient to arm the remainder.”

1914 Lee-Metfords and WW2 Lee-Enfields were met with in recent operations in Afghanistan and one newspaper showed pictures of a 19th C. muzzle-loader found in use in 2002. In this context, a weapon is a weapon is a weapon and remains so until its owner kills someone with a better one.[See “The Instructor”: Ed.]

[Page 83, line 2] ‘unconstitutional’ illegal.

[Page 84, line 4] the Proper Channels he wrote to his superior who forwarded his letter to higher authority,

[Page 84, line 6] sixty-six rupees a month or about £53 a year.

[Page 84, line 8] ancientry old-fashioned style.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved