The Naulahka

An Introduction

by Sharad Keskar


 The Naulahka, A Story of West and East, written by Rudyard Kipling in collaboration with Wolcott Balestier, was serialised in the Century Magazine from November 1891 to July 1892. However, after two instalments and Wolcott’s sudden and untimely death from typhoid in Dresden on 5th December 1891, Kipling was left with the task of revising and supervising the first English and American book editions of 1892.

Kipling’s account of the princely state of ‘Rhatore’ must have drawn heavily on his recollections of his visit to Rajputana as a special correspondent for the Pioneer between November 1887 and February 1888, described in Letters of Marque.

The Title

Naulakha in Hindi means nine lakhs of rupees, nearly a million rupees. (A lakh is 100,000)  When this novel was published in 1891 it was mis-spelt as ‘Naulahka’, with the ‘h’ before the ‘k’. When in 1893 Kipling used the name for the house he built in Vermont he used the correct spelling, ‘Naulakha’. 

Chapter headings

In the Century the story had appeared without chapter headings. A pamphlet, entitled “Rhymed Chapter Headings”, was printed in 1892 to establish copyright. These verse headings were then included in the book editions of The Naulahka, and one may assume (since Wolcott died in 1891) that they are the work of Kipling. In Songs from Books (1912) they appear as his. However, “The Juggler’s Song”, identified in that collection as ‘from The Naulahka‘, does not in fact appear in the story. Part of that poem is a chapter heading in Kim

Lord Birkenhead (p. 135) writes that in February 1892 en route for New York on the Teutonic: ‘Kipling thought out the end of The Naulahka, and began to arrange verses and chapter-heads. Four of them are accredited in the book to ‘The Libretto of Naulahka’:

  • Chapter V being ‘Solo from Libretto of Naulahka’.
  • Chapter VI being ‘Song from Libretto of Naulahka’.
  • Chapter VIII being ‘Chorus from Libretto of Naulahka’.
  • Chapter XX being ‘Queen’s Song from Libretto of Naulahka’.

Philip Holberton writes: Martin Seymour-Smith is the only critic to have much to say about these poems. He reads into them hidden messages to support his thesis about Kipling’s homosexual love for Wolcott Balestier, the co-author of the book. He describes them as essentially personal and private, related only nominally to the content of the novel (and occasionally not even that).

The timing is right: they were written (or at least selected – two are taken from earlier poems) between the start of magazine publication in November 1891 and its appearance in book form in 1892. This period covers the climactic events of Wolcott’s death on 5th December and Rudyard’s marriage to Caroline on 18 January. However, it seems almost unbelievable that so reticent a person as Kipling should have bared his heart in these poems, even in code, and in fact each poem closely relates to the content of the novel, as we have indicted in the notes that follow. [P.H.]

See the notes on the respective chapters.

Some critical responses

Henry James had viewed the Kipling/Balestier alliance with some alarm, describing it as a ‘morning without a morrow’; and the novel was not received with enthusiasm by the literati.

However, as a tale of adventure, it was by no means a critical failure. J H Millar, writing in Redwood’s Magazine in 1898, wrote that it was as thrilling as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and that: ‘The description of life at a Rajput King’s Court … is worth countless books and innumberable tracts.’
Charles Carrington, Kipling’s first authorised biographer, comments:

… anything in which Kipling had a hand is readable; here and there it is enlivened by piercing observations and forcible expressions such as no one but Kipling could have penned…

But Carrington feared, like James, that the book did little to enhance Kipling’s reputation. There is some hint of Kipling’s collaboration being half-hearted, but this overlooks the tragedy of Wolcott’s death, and the fact that Kipling was always open to aid and advice from those close to him—his mother, his sister, Trix and above all his father Lockwood.

Letters to cousins, aunts and friends like Edmonia Hill underline this readiness, or desire, to share thoughts, take soundings, or seek attention.
Lord Birkenhead (p. 133) was not impressed by the results of the collaboration:

The Naulahka was one of Kipling’s least successful books. An alien hand lay heavy on him, and reading the dry, stilted chapters contributed by Balesttier about life in the Middle West one is again astonished by the spell that this man exercised. ?

One is also somewhat astonished by Lord Birkenhead’s apparent belief that Colorado is in the Middle West, which rather undermines one’s confidence in his judgement of matters American. Kingsley Amis (p. 65) is more appreciative of Balestier’s work:

The first four chapters, certainly Balestier’s work, show an engaging light wit that Kipling never attempted. If the former used the same sort of style in talk as in writing, we have a good unsensational reason for the latter’s attachment to him.

And Angus Wilson (pp. 162-3) also sees merit in the tale:

This novel has usually been dismissed as an inferior work, unhappily written with an inferior writer. I agree with Kingsley Amis in thinking that this conventional judgement is mistaken. Naulahka is not a masterpiece, but it is excellent reading. The American first section, laid in Colorado, written by Balestier who spent some time in the South West States after he left Cornell University, is very fresh and workmanlike … And the Indian section, laid in a princely state, gave free rein to Kipling’s dark imagination of princely intrigues that had been roused by his visits to the ancient ruined cities of Amber and Chitor.

J M S Tompkins (pp. 1-2) is more critical:

The writing of the Indian scenes is in the main better that that in the original srticles (in Letters of Marque) but it is impossible to think that much effort went to this book. No doubt, however, pleasure did, a rare taste of partnership in writing, perhaps a pleasure in letting the collaborator have his head, perhaps a glee in angling for the American public with a book of which the hero and heroine were American. It resulted, however, in artistic confusion and nullity. Kate’s missionary zeal is defeated by Kipling’s India, while Kate’s young man defeats India on another level, winning the Rajah’s treasure by a mixture of naive audacity and bluff… East and West fail to meet to any profitable purpose.

However, as Harry Ricketts points out (p. 179) the authors never had high literary pretensions for the book:

It was a novel very much in the ripping-yarn line of King Solomon’s Mines and The YELLOW Arrow, and Kipling and Wolcottt’s references to the work confirm that they had no pretensions beyond the limits of the genre.

The Naulahka had sold some 20,000 copies in the United Kingdom by 1910.

Literary collaborations

J. H. Macdonald Stevenson writes in KJ 141 of March 1962.

… in 1890 and 1891, two important writers were each engaged upon a novel, in collaboration with a young American, a relation of his wife (though in one case the marriage was still to come). Robert Louis Stevenson was working on The Wrecker with his young stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, in the Antipodes, while at the opposite end of the world Rudyard Kipling was writing The Naulahka with Wolcott Balestier, whose sister became Mrs. Kipling.

… Both Pinkerton in The Wrecker and Tarvin in The Naulahka have a blind spot in their moral sense, so that the one can see no wrong in smuggling opium to natives, and the other in stealing a valuable necklace or in bogus gold-mining. [J.H.M.S.]

The Wrong Box, also written by Stevenson in collaboration with Lloyd Osbourne, was one of Kipling’s favourite stories. [See the notes in this Guide on “The Vortex” in A Diversity of Creatures.]

See also the correspondence between Charles Carrington and the ORG Editors.

The title

Naulakha is an Indian word for 900,000 rupees. (A lakh is 100,000 in the Indian numbering system, and naulakha means nine hundred thousand; the final ‘a’ is not stressed and is there only to strengthen the aspirant.) The name of the novel was however, spelt Naulahka with the ‘h’ and ‘k’ transposed, and was never corrected.
Harry Ricketts (p. 179) quotes a report in the Vermont Phoenix for 13 November 1891, which gives an account of how the tale was written:

…their working methods were for Wolcott to sit hammering away at the typewriter, and Kipling to pace about the room while both kept up a constant volley of lines, suggestions, and criticism…

This could explain the misspelling of Naulakha as a typing error. It is a reasonable deduction but one that may be unfair to Wolcott. A competent journalist, he was not without talent and, generally, it is agreed that the first part of the book is largely his, though as early as p.19 one may detect a Kipling touch in these sentences:

‘It is strange that men to whom life is a joke find comfort in women to whom it is a prayer.


‘No man can successfully conduct a love-affair and a political canvass at the same time.

Why the book’s title has been left uncorrected remains a mystery. In his letters, where Kipling refers to it, he spells “Naulakha” correctly. The one exception is in his letter to Wolcott of 20 August 1891. There, too, one finds both spellings, and this may point to the possibility of Wolcott’s typing error, and of Kipling leaving it in, in affectionate memory and regard for a dear friend. Kipling named the house which he built in Vermont, USA, “Naulakha”—again the right spelling.

The Real Naulakha

“Naulakha” also happens to be the name of a fabulous necklace of pearls, emeralds and rubies. An intriguing backdrop to the story is proffered by Charles Lesley Ames in his article on “The Real Naulakha” in the Kipling Journal No. 124 of December 1957:

The history of the “real” Naulakha is a mixture of fact and fiction. But there is no doubt that this fabulous jewel did exist and, knowing of its fame, Kipling and Wolcott Balestier, wove into their legend the tale of a jewel that rivalled the Kohinoor.

According to Perceval Landon’s Nepal Vol. I (1928), pages 158-159, the Nana Sahib, (responsible not only for the massacre of British troops after they surrendered at Cawnpore on June 26th 1857, but also of about 250 English women and children), fled to Nepal in the last days of the Mutiny, and sought protection of the Jung Bahadur Rana, who was Prime Minister and virtual ruler of the country.

The Jung Bahadur, to quote Landon:

“emphatically refused to extend any shelter to Nana Sahib himself. ‘Tell Nana Sahib and Bala Rao I will not protect them and disturb my relations with the English. If you want to fight the English and the Gorkhalis, say so, and you shall be massacred to a man.’

According to the Calcutta records, Nana Sahib … assumed the mendicant robes of the Atit order, and went west. But before leaving Deondari, the Nana Sahib had taken with him, from Bithur, the most valuable jewels in his possession. They included the famous ‘Naulakha’, the principal jewel of the Peshwas. It is—for it exists still—a long necklace of pearls, diamonds and emeralds, and is perhaps without a rival in the world.

The Maharaja of Darbhanga owns this necklace now. It descended through Jung Bahadur’s brother, Rana Udip Singh, to Maharaja Bir Sham Sher, whose widow sold it to Maharaja Deva Sham Sher during the short time the latter was Prime Minister. In 1901 he was expelled from Nepal, and the Maharaja of Darbhanga has told the story to the writer of how a message reached him one night that a wonderful necklace was for sale:

‘I said at once that must be the Nepalese necklace, for I was certain that two such jewels do not exist. I asked for time to consider the matter, but I was told that it was absolutely essential that the bargain should be concluded that night.’

The Maharaja of Darbhanga bought the necklace and has added slightly to it, but in its general shape it is practically what Nana Sahib sold to Jang Bahadur. [C.L.A.]


Naulakha in Lahore

Muhammed Latif, a reliable authority on Lahore and its antiquities, writes, in his History of Lahore [1892]:

Naulahka or Naulakha was founded in the first half of the 16th century by the Moghal Prince Kamran when he was Viceroy of Lahore. He was brother of the Emperor Humayun (1508-1556). There was once a palace, also gardens and various buildings on which the founder is said to have spent nine lakhs of rupees.

Old maps of the City of Lahore show the site of this 16th century palace and gardens. It is north of the city and is depicted as a large open space. Kipling must have ridden across and around it quite frequently.


Naulakha in Vermont

Kipling’s house “Naulakha”, built for himself in Brattleboro, Vermont, and where the Kipling’s lived from 1892 to 1896, was sold to Miss Mary R. Cabot, who lived there until she died in 1932. She is mentioned in Charles Crane’s book Pendrift. Miss Cabot and her brother knew the Kiplings well. The brother was “the man of the west” in “In Sight of Monadnock—From “Tideway to Tideway” in Letters of Travel. He was a celebrated Labrador traveller.

Kipling wrote many stories during this time including those collected in The Day’s Work and The Jungle Books.

It has been suggested that Kipling named the house because the word means “Cherished possession”, but that cannot be sustained. On the face of it the meaning is “Nine-lakh-er” much as we might say “sixteen-pounder”—and a necklace costing nine lacs (lakhs) would be priced, at that time, at some £60,000.

A concluding note

In conclusion, let me add that while The Naulahka is one of Kipling’s weakest contribution to Literature, I go along with Roger Lancelyn Green’s comment that it is much more readable than most contemporary novels. [p. 208, Kipling: The Critical Heritage, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1970.]