The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Life’s Handicap, as published and frequently reprinted between 1891 and 1950.


[Title] Incarnation in this context is the assumption of a living form by a god as will be seen later in the story.

See “The Mark of the Beast” later in this volume for the desecration of another temple with a very different outcome.

[Heading] This verse is by Charles Godfrey Leland (1824- 1903), the correct title being “Breitman’s Going to Church” (See KJ123 and 316/40)

Wohl auf well away. The ORG Verse volume, p. 5635 amends this to Wohe.
Schenck der whiskey aus to pour the whiskey out.

[Page 1, line 5] outer-door mats of decent folk at that time private soldiers were not looked upon with favour by civilians – except in time of national emergency – see Kipling’s verse “Tommy”.

[Page 2, lines 9 – 11] a not unimportant war …. Western boundary… Upper Burma probably the Second Afghan War (1878-1880), the Black Mountain Expedition (Haraza, 1888) and the third Burmese War of 1885. See “The Three Musketeers”, “The Daughter of the Regiment”, “The Taking of Lungtungpen” and “The Madness of Private Ortheris”, inPlain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 2, line 12] recruit in this context, to nurse invalids and wounded back to health.

[Page 2, line 25] born on the wolds the rolling limestone hills of East Yorkshire.

[Page 2, line 30] Cockney strictly speaking, anyone born within the sound of the bells of the church of St. Mary – le – Bow in Cheapside, City of London, but loosely applied to many Londoners.

[Page 3, line 14] Calicut a seaport in the Madras Presidency on the West coast of India.
Peshawur Town and District on the North-West Frontier.

[Page 4, line 2] videlicet namely – that is to say (Latin.)

[Page 4, line 20] Clink the name of an old prison on Bankside – the south bank of the Thames in London – here meaning “Cells” ; see the verses of that name.

[Page 4, line 24] ‘coutrements accoutrements – military equipment.

[Page 5, lines 24-27] ‘Go forth, return in glory, etc Ortheris is quoting, rather inaccurately, from “Horatius” in “Lays of Ancient Rome” by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron Macaulay, (1800-1859). The correct version of the lines is:

Go, and return in glory
To Clusium’s royal dome;
And hang round Nurscia’s altars
The golden shields of Rome.

In fact, as anyone who knows the poem will be aware, the Tuscans failed in their attempt to sack Rome, foiled by the bravery of Horatius and his comrades. So it was not a very propitious injunction from Ortheris.

[Page 5, line 31] gas-pipe gun a cheap and probably native-made weapon.

[Page 5, line 32] peacockses peacocks – sacred birds as mentioned at line 6 above, considered delicacies by some, enjoyed in medieval banquets in India and the U.K. See David Burton
The Raj at Table (Faber 1993) pp. 31, 118 & 128.

[Page 7, line 5] stringent tight – rigorous probably more strict than the etiquette of the Officers’ Mess.

[Page 8, line 11] bullock-kyart bullock-cart.

[Page 8, line 19] the Tavi river Kipling almost certainly means the River Tawi. The Tawi is in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, and is noted for a variety of fish such as Mahseer, Cat fish, Labio, and Mahi. The river passes through Jammu on its way to join the River Indus.

[Page 8, line 32] riffle he means a raffle – more-or-less correctly described in the next few lines, but somebody is supposed to win a prize if it is run honestly!

[Page 9, line 17] gun-wads probably felt discs to be rammed down a muzzle-loading gun to keep the ball in place.

[Page 9, line 25] sedan-chair an enclosed chair for one person, usually carried by two men; probably derived from the Italian sedere, to sit and not the town in France.

[Page 9, line 27] palanquin a more luxurious version of the above, usually carried on the shoulders of four or six men – Hindi, palki – see Hobson-Jobson p. 659.

[Page 10, line 29] Roshus Quintus Roscius (died c. 62 A.D.) a famous comic actor of ancient Rome – the reference is, however, probably to William Henry West Betty (1791-1874) a precocious boy actor known as ‘the Young Roscius’ who retired with a large fortune.

[Page 11, line 10] trapesments a portmanteau word probably compounded from ‘trappings’ (gaudy decorations) and ‘ornaments’.

[Page 11, line 23] fut, horse an’ guns more usually ‘ horse, foot and guns; that is, all arms together.

[Page 12, line 1] sky-green a green flash sometimes seen in the sky at sunset.

[Page 12, line 7] rushin’ on his fate [this rings a very faint bell – the source would be appreciated; Ed.]

[Page 12, line 23] hump in this context, the flesh of the hump of a bison or similar animal.

[Page 13, line 20] the Curragh in those days it was 4,885 acres of common, a racecourse and a military camp, 32 miles South-West of Dublin.

[Page 14, line 18] Dearsley Sahib’s watch see the note to Page 16, line 4 below.

[Page 15, line 17] nine-tenths the truth was probably somewhere in between the various figures they gave; ‘half’ in line 21, and three-sevenths in line 29).

[Page 15, lines 24-25] All the money … was in the cushions see the notes to Page 20, line 30 and Page 33, line 13.

[Page 16, line 4] the simplest story the two preceding pages are another example of Kipling’s monologues in the manner of Browning, as in “In Flood Time” and other stories in Soldiers Three, with another imperfectly informed narrator doing his best to describe a bare-fisted boxing-match held under at least some of the Queensbury Rules.

These were laid down by the eighth Marquis of Queensbury (1844-1900). Rule 4, for instance, decrees three rounds, the first two to be of three minutes duration and the final round four minutes, with an interval of one minute between them, which is why Ortheris borrowed Dearsley’s watch. We are not told how long the fight lasted.

[Page 16, line 17] papier-maché layers of paper pasted together and left to harden or baked, then beautifully decorated with lacquer and mother of pearl. A specialty of Srinagar in Kashmir.

[Page 16, line 20] the Hindu Pantheon this includes the Triad of chief Gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Siva) see “The Finances of the Gods” later in this volume and “The Bridge-Builders” in The Day’s Work. A Pantheon is a temple of all the gods, like that erected by Hadrian at Rome.

[Page 16, line 22] Jaipur a State and city in Rajputana, famous for its minerals and gold enamelled work. See Chapter 2 of “Letters of Marque” (From Sea to Sea, Volume 2) The ruined city of Amber which Kipling also visited is nearby.

[Page 16, line 24] brocaded Delhi silk a luxurious and expensive cloth with raised patterns, usually in gold or silver thread, believed to have originated in China.

[Page 16, line 30] zenana Persian, from zan, ‘woman’, the apartments of a house or palace in which the women are confined. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 981.

[Page 17, line 5] three musketeers the name of the famous French novel by Alexandre Dumas (180-1870) and the title of one of the Mulvaney stories in Plain Tales from the Hills.

[Page 17, line 6] ‘fence’ in this context, slang for one who buys stolen goods.

[Page 18, line 6] night-hawk a usually nocturnal bird of the family Caprimulgidae – the night-jar.

[Page 19, line 10] tubs an’ vats an’ firkins tubs and vats can be any size but a firkin is 9 gallons. (40.9 litres,)

[Page 19, line 19] four weeks’ drought presumably the soldiers were paid every four weeks and would spend most of it on beer very quickly !

[Page 20, line 3] nupshal couch he means nuptial couch, or marriage-bed – an unusually poetic figure of speech for him !

[Page 20, line 30] I’d made my profit on it see the notes to Page 15, line 24 and Page 33, line 13. There is no mention of the money again.

[Page 20, line 32] as drunk as Davy’s sow David Lloyd, an innkeeper, was said to have had a sow with six legs which he exhibited to the curious. His wife was overcome by drink one day and lay down in the sty to sleep it off. Lloyd took some visitors to the sty and without looking in said “There is a sow for you ! Did you ever see the like ?” To which one replied “It is the drunkenest sow I ever beheld!” (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)

ORG (Vol. 2, p. 945) refers to a letter from Kipling to the Sunday Times of 3 February 1935. [We are awaiting a copy; Ed.]

[Page 21, line 1] hodman a labourer who carried bricks and mortar to the bricklayer in a hod, an open sided box on the end of a pole, not often used in Britain today.

[Page 21, line 19] niggers an offensive expression for people with dark skins – not now in use.

[Page 22, line 16] twenty-eight days’ confinement imprisonment – see the verses “Cells”.

[Page 23, line 15] Black Tyrone. See ORG, Volume 1, p. 8 for Mulvaney’s regiments.

[Page 23, line 16] the Liffey the river at Dublin.

[Page 23, line 17] a perfect lady’s hack a gentle horse suitable for a lady to ride.

[Page 23, line 25] Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals now The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), founded 1824.

[Page 24, line 6] camelthorn a spiney shrub, Alhagi camelorum .

[Page 24, line 7] sour tamarisks shrubs and small trees of the genus Tamariscinacie.

[Page 24, line 17] snipe game-birds, Gallinago cœlestis, greatly prized as food.

[Page 24, line 31] toga the flowing garment of ancient Rome.

[Page 25, line 23] go to the guard-room under arrest and awaiting punishment for absence without leave or perhaps even desertion– see “With the Main Guard” and “Black Jack.” (Soldiers Three).

[Page 26, line 23] disgustin’ly dressed disgustingly dressed; the Army has always stressed the importance of being properly dressed and it is an offence to be otherwise.

[Page 27, line 17] a skate in this context, Raia batis or similar – flat fish of the Ray group.

[Page 27, line 26] phwat a concertina what a concertina. A concertina is a musical instrument with two keyboards held in the hands and a pair of bellows between which is alternately compressed and expanded while the fingers select the notes. [An apt comparison with the “opening and shutting” sensation experienced during a dreadful hangover; Ed.]

[Page 28, line 2) a ballast-thruck a ballast-truck carrying material for the construction of the railway.

[Page 28, line 11] Benares … ten hours by rail one to two hundred miles, depending on the type of train – perhaps Cawnpore where Mulvaney met “My Lord the Elephant” (Many Inventions).

[Page 29, line 3] whishperin’ devils whispering devils we are not told what language they are speaking until Page 35, line 5, but whatever it is, Mulvaney understands it !

[Page 29, line 26] Queenstown potato-smacks sailing-vessels exporting potatoes from an important seaport (now known as Cobh) in Southern Ireland.

[Page 29, line 27] squirkin’ a portmanteau word after the fashion of Alice in Wonderland which ORG suggests is compounded from ‘smirking and squealing’, or ‘laughing and squealing’, or some such combination.

[Page 29, line 31] the Maharanee of Gokral-Seetarun not traced – probably invented by Kipling.

[Page 30, line 1] the Central Indian States there were many of these around the Northern border of Hyderabad from Orissa to Baroda with varying degrees of independence, the majority Hindu.

[Page 30, line 10] incog. incognito – unknown; usually a person of rank travelling under an assumed name.

[Page 30, line 17] Prithi-Devi probably Prithivi, a goddess of fertility.

[Page 30, line 24] pully-haulin’ nautical jargon – a party of men pulling on a line to hoist a sail or some such.

[Page 31, line 6] she-god perhaps Prithivi again, or perhaps Lakshmi, the goddess of love, incarnated as Sita, the beloved of Krishna.

[Page 31, line 32] Queens’ Praying at Benares the famous holy city on the River Ganges. [Information on this ceremony would be appreciated; Ed.]

[Page 32, line 12] his little son see p. 66 below.

[Page 32, line 19] world-without-end-amen the end of many prayers in Christian churches, which are often chanted, usually – however – without the emotion found here.

[Page 33, line 4] Krishna the demi-god hero of the Mahabharata (a sacred book of the Hindus) who became an incarnation of Vishnu and the God of Happiness.

[Page 33, line 10] the off-shutter the right-hand side; used of horses and carriages – near-side is the left, and also of mechanically propelled vehicles.

[Page 33, lines 13 – 14] the pink linin’ (lining) … ripped out there is no sign of Dearsley’s money at this stage. (pp. 15 and 20 above).

[Page 33, line 29] the ghost-waggle probably a grotesque dance.

[Page 33, line 28] a shepherd on a china basin he probably means a rustic scene on a ceramic ornament.

[Page 34, line 6 ff.] I sang….. this is from a song by the Irish humourist Francis Sylvester Mahony (1804-1866) who was known as “Father Prout.”

[Page 34, line 29] big bull-god probably Nandi, the bull on which Siva rode.

[Page 35, line 9] railway-fare soldiers on leave or duty usually travelled on a warrant or in a troop-train at the expense of the Army.

[Page 35, line 13] philandered In this context another portmanteau word probably compounded from philander (to flirt) and fumble. He would be wearing loose robes with his money in a pouch.

[Page 35, lines 15-16] old gold mohurs the chief gold coin of British India, from the Persian muhr, ‘the sun’ or possibly Sanskrit mudra, a seal’ (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 35, line 21] under that lump of sod he has buried the loot.

[Page 35, line 24] Four hundred and thirty-four rupees four months salary for Kipling at the time, plus the value of the necklace. See the verse “Loot”.

[Page 36, line 6] burnin’ ghat (burning) where the bodies of the dead were cremated.

[Page 36, line 13] Sir Fredrick Roberts later Field- Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar (1832-1914.) The reference is to his famous march with some ten thousand men from Kabul to Kandahar (or Candahar) in 1880.He was Commander-in Chief in India and personally known to Kipling. See Something of Myself, Chapter 3, the poem “Bobs”, and the note at page 75, line 32 to “The Three Musketeers” ( Plain Tales from the Hills). See also Julian Moore’s notes on Kipling and Lord Roberts.

[Page 37, lines 1-10] So they sent a corp’ril’s file etc (a corporal’s file) two private soldiers under the command of a corporal – the usual escort for a prisoner – see “The Arrest of Lieutenant Golightly” (Plain Tales from the Hills). The lines are probably by Kipling but are not collected elsewhere.
ORG states that an extra paragraph appears in some editions:

There is no further space to record the digging up of the spoils, or the triumphal visit of the three to Dearsley, who feared for his life, but was most royally treated instead, and under that influence told how the palanquin had come into his possession. But that is another story.

[So the loot from the temple is recovered, but there is no explanation of what happened to the proceeds of Dearsley’s “raffles” mentioned at Page 15, lines 24 – 25 and Page 20, line 30; Ed.]

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved