Chapter VI

Notes on the text

(by Sharad Keskar)

[Page 137, verse heading] This is the third stanza of Kipling’s “The Song of Diego Valdez”. The poem’s leitmotiv is one of nostalgia, and thus has a rightful place in this book of nostalgic memories of India across the years of Kipling’s absence from that country.

[Page 137, line 3] orpiment Arsenic trisulphide; yellow dye, used as a pigment in tanning.

[Page 138, line 24] lusus naturae a freak of nature.

[Page 140, line 12] Parsee a name derived from the word Persian and the language spoken; a people who fled Persia [Iran] to India from Islamic persecution and forceful conversion in the 17th century. Good businessmen, they now form a small but rich and influential community. Mostly concentrated in big cities they are Westernised.

[Page 140, line 13] barricades in Forty-eight This probably refers to the Paris riots of 1848, but it is not clear here why it should explain a German scenery painter who is teaching English. He is described in Souvenirs of France [page 10] as an actual acquaintance of Kipling. Another possibility has been suggested by a correspondent in Berlin, ie that it refers to the German Revolution of 1848-9.

[Page 141, line 10] cap-ribbons ribbons attached to the back of a “fore and aft” cap [side cap], which ran down the back of the neck.

[Page 142, line 13] Od a mehtar or bhungi; sweeper and cleaner of lavatories. [Note the closeness to the French word for excrement – merde]

Lal Beg: the god of the sweepers.

[Page 142, line 28] Kayeth Kayesth, the caste of scribes and accountants.

[Page 143, line 24] reed in the inkstand the kalam [reed pen in Hindi]. A reed stick, no more than 9 ins long, it is cut at a slant and shaped into a broad-tipped italic pen.

[Page 144, line 6] pulton [Hindustani] army, regiment.

[Page 145, line 5] bukkin’ about pointless chatter. [Hindi, buckna means to chatter.]

[Page 147, line 12] hoondie [Hindi] bankers’ draft.

[Page 147, line 22] puro abbrev. of the Hindi word, purohit. He is a family priest who conducts weddings among other rites of passage.

[Page 147, line 30] Failed entrance A nicety, suggesting that a failed attempt is surely a higher qualification than no attempt. Shows Kipling’s close observation of the Indian mind.

[Page 147, line 33] Tirthanker [Tirthankara] Jain priest, but more importantly one who has escaped the wheel of life; therefore, a saint, who is often placed higher than a god.

[Page 150, line 2] revolting to Kim his Irish antecedents aside, Kim was a thorough bred Indian, for whom eating is a very private affair.

[Page 150, line 32] quirt A riding-whip/crop, with a short handle and a braided leather lash, about two feet long.

[Page 151, line 19] Cabuli stallion A horse from Kabul, Afghanistan.

[Page 153, line 19] chabuk sawai In the text Kipling defines it as “a sharp chap”. Sharp in the sense of cunning would be, in Hindi, charlak. Now chabuk means whip and sawai ‘this apart’ or ‘this alone’. Kipling may have got his Hindi in a twist. As written, the phrase would mean ‘whip apart’. Possibly Kipling meant ‘whip dodger’, one who avoids the whip’, an ‘artful dodger’? Whippersnapper is not ‘sharp’ enough. We ought to accept Kipling’s translation even if he has got the phrase wrong.

[Page 155, line 4] Ethnological Survey As there was no such Department, Kipling is suggesting that Colonel Creighton works incognito, something espionage merits.

[Page 156, line 16] children should not see a carpet on the loom a saying among the Afghan carpet weavers. Mahbub explains why: “till the pattern is made plain.”