Chapter XV

Notes on the text

(by Sharad Keskar)


[Page 381, verse heading] The title given to this stanza, which heads the book’s final chapter, was changed to “The Fairies’ Siege” when Kipling added two more stanzas. This became the third and last stanza, and it pays tribute to Teshoo Lama’s dream, which indeed came true.

The Triple Crown The Pope’s tiara.

[Page 381, main text, line 6] Mannlicher rifle “A well-balanced and accurate weapon, made in the Continent of two calibres: the .256, officially adopted in 1891 by the Italian Army; and the .315, taken up by the Austrian Army in 1898.” [Brigadier Alec Mason in the ORG] The smaller calibre became a sports rife.

[Page 381, line 10] the far-beholding eagles of the Himalayas… Roger Neill writes: this is an echo of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem usually called “The Song of the Sword of Alan” in Kidnapped (Heinemann, Tusitala Edition, p 68), which ends with “O far-beholding eagles,/ Here is your meat.” Kipling revered RLS and knew Kidnapped intimately. Kipling implies that the Bengali may become their “meat”. (R.N.)

[Page 384, line 11] Nilang north of the source of the Ganges.

[Page 387, 31] hysterical catch a catch in the throat due to emotional stress.

[Page 388, line 3] “Hai mai!” Literally “Oh mother!”

[Page 391, line 26] loquats Almond-shaped edible fruit, of the colour of apricots.

[Page 391, line 33] “I am the Holy One’s cow” The Sahiba is being obeisant. As an aristocrat, she is, along with rajas and the Hindu nobility, of the Kshatriya or warrior caste. The caste is a rung below Brahmins, and as priests are Brahmins, even rajas gave them the respect due to their caste
status. The lama would not know this, and the import of the phrase itself
(which Kipling notes as “pure Hinduism”) is lost on him. To Hindus it raises a vision of god Shiva’s mount, the bull Nandi, making the bull and cow sacred. But to Muslims and Buddhists, who are not idolaters, the expression conveys little apart from abject humility. The oath of fidelity for a Muslim is: “I am thy sacrifice”, which Mahbub used earlier. [page 254, line 33].

Oaths come easily to Mahbub and, from his disregard of non-Muslims, one
detects in them pointed sarcasm. But towards the end of the book he changes.
The lama has affected him. He is no longer the same Mahbub we met at the
beginning of Kim. But the reformation is not total. A truce between him and
the lama is achieved by mutual respect. He is prepared to make allowances
for the “mad” Babu, and able, as Kipling says, to “choke down his touch of spleen”. [page 408, line 4] The truce, between him and the lama, is that of two teachers, who, Jesuit-like, know that they have their pupil and chela in their grasp: “. . .but now I understand that the boy, sure of paradise, can yet enter Government service, my mind is easier.” [Mahbub on page 407 lines 30-33].

However, the tinge of sarcasm has not disappeared. Mahbub cannot quite stomach hearing Kim call the lama “master” [page 408, line 2]; but he is sincere when he says: “…I call thee a good man – a very good man.” [page 408, line 11] When the lama asks: “Why not follow the Way. . .” Mahbub, who at another time would consider this “insolence”, sees the “humour of it” and it touches “his worldly soul”. The world today, Paradise later, is his priority. The lama, in no way deceived, concludes that Mahbub is one who “lacks courtesy, and is deceived by the shadow of appearances.” [page 409, line 22] But despite their separate reservations their parting could not be more amicable.

[Page 393, line 2] drenches Bath trenches filled with a medicated wash, to “drench” sheep and cattle as a disease prevention/cure.

[Page 393, line 18] earth-currents Traditionally many Asians believe that magnetic waves affect one’s health.

[Page 393, line 23] irresponsible pulp the kneading and pounding during an Asian massage, while drastric, can be soporific.

[Page 393, line 25] chudders (chaddars) sheets or veils.

[Page 394, line 1] of the pit Quails are kept in deep pits, to be fed and fattened. Fried or grilled on skewers these little birds make a tasty morsel.

[Page 394, line 13] new-curried “freshly combed and rubbed down.” [Brigadier Alec Mason in the ORG]

[Page 394, line 20] dengue-aches severe fever and aches in the joints, a viral disease usually transmitted by mosquitoes.

[Page 396, line 13] chattris umbrellas.

[Page 396, line 15] chattis large round pottery water jars.

[Page 397, line 21] a typhoon Or a hurricane; a storm of wrecking strength.

[Page 397, line 24] Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus (AD 40 -81), son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian. He destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in AD 70.

[Page 398, lines 14 – 29] swiped stolen (schoolboy slang); proof of Hurree Babu’s ‘English’ education; but clearly, from his use of idioms, we know he was schooled into a foreign culture.

locks, stocks and barrels ‘lock, stock and barrel’, meaning ‘completely’, or ‘everything’. (These were the three main parts of a matchlock gun)

gone up the spouts ‘gone up the spout’. Lost.

put his foot in the holes ‘put his foot in it’. Got things badly wrong.

Finally, Hurree gets his Shakespeare quotation wrong. When he says Trea-son most base he means ‘Murder most foul’, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The Babu is more confident with written English. He says [Page 399] “. . .we are not allowed written reports. We Bengalis excel in thee exact science.” Educated Bengalis also like to pedantically use the full range of their acquired vocabulary, which can be riddled with errors and malapropisms. Thus on page 398, line 23 Hurree says infirmity for ‘infinity’, and to cataleptic he adds epileptic to cover any error. Then again in line 25 when he says in articulo mortem, ‘mortem’ should be ‘mortis’. In line 31 he describes the lama’s transcendental experience as a transfiguration; and in line 33 he uses in posse for ‘just in case’ when the phrase suggests ‘within the bounds of possibility’. Such erroneous use of language and vocabulary lends humour to a passage which at the same time establishes Kipling’s finely tuned ear for accurate observation.

[Page 400, line 16] That is creaming joke Hurree is thinking in Bengali but translating his thoughts into English. He means, (as “cream” is the best and the very top of the milk) ‘the best part of it all’. However, in spite of the mistakes his meanings are clear, as when he says “there is no accounting for thee taste” in page 401, line 21, where only the indefinite article, often pronounced “thee”, is extraneous. An English person would say “there’s no accounting for taste”.

[Page 402, line 13] fallow this is not a misprint, instead it is a brilliant exposition of Kipling’s sensitive ear. Many Indians, even today, say fallow meaning ‘fellow’, so much so that it would be insensitive of a listener to correct the speaker. It is now quite nationally understood “Indian English” usage.

[Page 402, line 14] use Mohammedan terms with the Tibet dress Hurree Babu is pointing to a lack of decorum, a lack of seemliness. A Muslim phrase of Islamic sentiment is out of place from one in Tibetan dress. Hurree is a Hindu to whom Buddhism is a kin and an acceptable religion; this is not so in the case of Islam.

[Page 402, line 23] chit short for chittee (Hindi for letter) meaning a note on paper.

[Page 403, line 18] Beheea sugar-crusher Sugarcane juice, with a dash of ginger and fresh lime juice, and chilled with crushed ice, makes a delicious and refreshing drink. The “crusher” is a detachable wooden mangle that crushes the sugarcane to extract sugarcane juice. It has cogs which attach to a wheel that is turned by a handle. The cane juice hawker removes the mangle when not in use, washes it (to discourage flies and bees from getting into the machinery) and sets it aside.

Beheea, as a word, is indefinable. The nearest to it, phonetically, is Bhaiya, which means ‘brother’ or ‘comrade’. Asians greet relations, tradesmen on the beat, and even strangers, with a salutation that is meant to be both polite and familiar. It is possible that the hawker’s mobile “crusher”, which can be mounted on a push cart (as familiar as the ice-cream van in Britain) is greeted thus. Bhaiya, is generally an established nickname for street traders in Indian villages and towns. But Kipling may mean something we do not know, something that is lost in the mists of time, and now archaic and obsolete. Although it is perilous to suggest that Kipling may have noted a word he misheard, did he mean bhumihar. Bhumihars converted to Buddhism and, having lost their Brahmin status, became tillers of the soil. Bhumihars are from Bihar State, India.

A final suggestion: a beheea could be one of the landless itinerant farm labourers, of a people who originally settled on the banks of the River Beas in Himachal Pradesh, hence the name. In “The Undertakers” in The Second Jungle Book, Kipling refers to another rarely heard race of people who he calls Purbeeahs. As pur in Hindi means east, it is possible to suggest that they are from the east bank of the River Beas. However, all this is mere speculation, and open to amendment.

[Page 404, line 11] banian tree or ‘banyan tree’ [ficus benghalensis]. This is a large spreading fig tree with aerial roots that reach down to the ground to become additional trunks.

[Page 405, line 32] Pashtu the language of Pathans and many Afghans.

[Page 407, line 2] Nibban Nirvana.

[Page 407, line 4] Mohammed’s Horse The horse’s name was Borak.

[Page 407, line 22] an old trot an old woman.

[Page 408, line 26] Softly—softly A note of caution, meaning ‘move with care’ — from the Chinese proverb: “Softly, softly catchee monkey”. This suggests that slow and steady wins the race or the prize; thus, this is the way to attain a particular goal, in this case, Paradise.

[Page 409, line 29] snapping fingers this Indian habit comes from the firm belief that snapping fingers drive away germs, flies, midgets and evil spirits, which may enter the body through the open mouth, and by the intake of breath which follows a yawn.

[Page 410, line 8] a monkey’s age for “I don’t know how long”, from the average man’s inability to guess a monkey’s age at any one time. The equivalent English idiom would be “for donkey’s years” which is a pun on “ears”, which are long on a donkey.

[Page 411, line 32] I saw thee falling downhill At the moment when his soul attains freedom, salvation, and unity with the Great Soul, the lama remembers Kim. Teshoo Lama cannot forsake his chela. So he frees himself from the Great Soul. “I pushed aside world upon world for thy sake.” [Page 412, line 30, my italics] But by entering The River of the Arrow, which washes away all sin—and, as Kim realises, with the timely aid of Hurree Babu—the lama can rest assured, and smile “as a man may who has won Salvation for himself and his beloved.” [the last line of Kim]

[N.B. Some fascinating claims have been made about the person and career on whom Kipling might have based Kim — in one instance that person, as an officer in the Indian Police, was murdered in the line of duty. Fascinating though these speculations are, it is best to remember that Kim is a story which begins with a boy of thirteen and ends when he is seventeen; and that, in truth, Kim does not exist outside the book.]