At Howli Thana

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First printed in The Week’s News Allahabad, on 31 March, 1888 and collected in In Black and White and Soldiers Three (1895).

The story

A voluble Delhi Pathan, Afzal Khan, is seeking a job as servant to an Englishman. He has been dismissd from the police as a result of a plot that went wrong. A group of idle and dishonest policemen, stationed at Howli Thana, have been outwitted by a Stalky-like English officer, Assistant-Commissioner ‘Yunkum Sahib’.

The policemen had been asleep at their post one night. When they awoke, they found that their rifles and the station record book had been stolen. To account for the loss they invented an elaborate story of an attack by dacoits (robbers) only to find that the thief was Yunkum Sahib himself. All were then arrested, apart from Afzal Khan, who had escaped on horseback. It is not clear at the end of the story whether or not he got the job.

Some critical comments

ORG observes that this is a sketch of a police-station of the time showing the slack administration before the service was reorganised.

In his Foreword to the R.S.Surtees Society reprint of In Black and White (1987) Philip Mason remarks:

“At Howli Thana” is another in which it is easier to believe the story than the framework. What happens there is just what might happen at an outlying police station – but it is the last thing an applicant for employment would tell his prospective employer. And there is one story – I will not say which – in which the climax is altogether impossible and I do not believe it at all. [I’ll have have a shilling with anybody that it is “The Judgement of Dungara”; Ed.]

F. L. Knowles (A Kipling Primer 1900, page 89) observes that: “the sketch gives us much insight into the strange workings of the Oriental mind…” . This comment probably reveals more about contemporary English attitudes than about the characters in the tale.
Cornell (page145) notes that Kipling the newspaper-man would be interested in crime and criminals – hence this story, “Gemini” (later in this volume) and others. For another police story and an imitation dacoity see “The Son of His Father” (Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides).

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved