In the Rukh

(notes edited by Alan Underwood)


This story was first published in Many Inventions (1893). It was reprinted in McClure’s Magazine for June 1896 with illustrations by W A C Page. The Outward Bound (American) edition of the Jungle Books (1897), brought together the Mowgli stories in Volume VII The Jungle Book, and the remaining jungle stories in Volume VIII (The Second Jungle Book); “In the Rukh” was included with the other Mowgli stories as the last tale in Volume VII. It was also included in a number of other Jungle Book editions, including the de luxe edition of 1898, and All the Mowgli Stories (Macmillan, 1933).

Kipling’s own view, or that of his publishers, seems to have wavered over the inclusion of this story with the other Mowgli tales, and in the Sussex Edition, which can be seen as reflecting his final judgement on the ordering of his works, it is included in Many Inventions. See also the notes on “The Spring Running”.

In Note 6 on page 346 of the Penguin Classics edition of The Jungle Books the Editor, Daniel Karlin, notes:

‘Kipling himself … in a winsome preface to “In the Rukh” when it was reprinted in McClure’s Magazine in June 1896, began the process of trying to incorporate it into the Mowgli canon:

‘This tale … was the first written of the Mowgli stories, though it deals with the closing chapters of his career, namely, his introduction to white men, his marriage and civilisation, all of which took place, we may infer, two or three years after he had finally broken away from his friends in the jungle… Those who know the geography of India will know that it is a far cry from Seeonee to a Northern Forest Reserve, but though many curious things must have befallen Mowgli, we have no certain record of his adventures during those wanderings. There are, however, legends’.

This process was confirmed when “In the Rukh” was added to the rearranged stories in the Outward Bound edition the following year. The present ediitor (Dr Karlin) will have nothing to do with this creeping legitimisation of “In the Rukh”.

The story

The story starts with an account of the devoted lonely work of the Forest Officers, whose job is to tend the forests of India. Gisborne is one such, guarding his fire lines, encouraging new plantations into life, dredging out choked streams, and living in a little white bungallow on the very edge of the jungle, the Rukh. One day he is called out with his gun because a forest guard has been killed by a tiger. He encounters a tall young man, Mowgli, naked except for a loincloth, who leads him to where the tiger is resting. Gisborne shoots it dead, and Mowgli refuses any reward, saying simply that he hates all tigers. Mowgli has never see a white man’s house; he visits Gisborne, and as they talk Mowgli reveals an extraordinary knowledge of the jungle creatures, and the power to drive them hither and thither. Though Gisborne does not know it, this is the work of Mowgli’s four wolf brothers.

When Gisborne is out on a tour of inspection, he meets Mowgli in the forest, and offers him a job as a Forest Ranger. They hear Gisborme’s old mare being ridden through the jungle, and Mowgli drives her to them, with the aid of the wolves. The rider is Gisborne’s butler, Abdul Gafur, who has stolen his money, hoping to put the blame on Mowgli, as he confesses. Gisborne decides not to pursue the matter. It is only when Gisborne meets Muller, the Head of his Service, that he learns of Mowgli’s upbringing among the wolves. Mowgli agrees to work for the Forest Service, and settles down with
Abdul Gafur’s daughter.

Critical comments

From the outset, critics have been exercised over the relationship between this and the other Mowgli stories, for example Cyril Falls, writing in 1915:

… somehow Mowgli, his face ‘that of an angel strayed among the woods’, has not the same glamour in contact with white men as with his wolf-brethren and Bagheera the black panther. His world is the ideal world of fantasy, not a world that holds officials of the Indian Woods and Forests Department or Mohammedan butlers and their beautiful daughters. And this, even though the tale of a human infant suckled by wild beasts is, if we can believe the peasants of jungle villages, less improbable than it may sound.

J M S Tompkins (p. 68) writes:

Mowgli of `In the Rukh’ does not quite tally with the Mowgli of The Jungle Books. Professor Carrington tells us that the tale was written after “Mowgli’s Brothers”, the first of that series; otherwise we should have guessed that it was written before, and, indeed, that is the impression that Kipling himself conveys in Something of Myself.

It is not so much that “In the Rukh” plays in the Doon, a far cry from the Seeonee Hills, or that this Mowgli’s sketch of his history needs some humouring to fit it into what we know of the boy of The Jungle Books, but he speaks to Gray Brother as to a dog, in human language, and is ‘very mistrustful of the firelight and ready to fly back to the thicket on the least alarm’. Yet the child Mowgli spoke to the beasts in their own tongues, and, in the first tale, showed his superiority to them by nursing the Red Flower in a fire-pot and using it as a weapon against the tiger.

It is an odd inconsistency, if Professor Carrington is right; but all it signifies, perhaps, is that it took time for an imaginary world to establish its conditions. Kipling was embarked upon a different kind of creation from the brilliant selections from the known world that had made his name.

And Professor J I M Stewart (p. 116) observes the same inconsistencies:

What is interesting about ‘In the Rukh’ is the entire absence of the magic which the Jungle Books were going to create. Kipling has not yet glimpsed what material he has under his hand; this Mowgli is an implausible mixture of Noble Savage, Indian native properly respectful of the Raj, and a godling strayed out of Greek mythology in a manner rather reminiscent of some of the more whimsical short stories of E. M. Forster. ( Mowgli plays a flute, ‘as it might have been the song of some wandering wood-god’ …
“In the Rukh” was almost certainly written before Kipling had conceived the Mowgli stories proper, but in its published form it may embody revisions designed to make it fit in with the evolving series.

[F. A. U.]

©Alan Underwood 2008 All rights reserved