First published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 28 May 1888 and collected in Life’s Handicap in 1891.
Athira is the wife of Madu, an old charcoal-burner, who beats her, and she runs away with a young soldier Suket Singh. Madu puts a curse on her, and, believing that she is doomed, Athira begins to wither away. She goes home, accompanied by Suket Singh, and they decide to die together. They climb up on a great pile of Madu’s wood for charcoal outside the house, and set it alight. Suket Singh shoots her and then himself. Madu is left bemoaning his lost four rupees worth of charcoal wood.
Some critical comments
Norman Page (p. 129) describes this story as:
…. a neat miniature example of Kipling’s attempts in fiction to show that the Indian and European minds work in quite different ways.
J M S Tompkins (p. 233) observes :
‘ Love the destroyer is much in evidence in the early tales’. She cites this story, “Beyond the Pale”, “The Other Man”, “The Bisara of Pooree”, and others in Plain Tales from the Hills, believing that:
There is a strong note of violence and abandonment in these drastic scenes … It is in this region of grotesque and tragic illusion and grotesque and tragic reality that we find what is permanent in Kipling, not in his precocious and cleverish dealings with Simla flirtations and Mrs Hauksbee.
With her usual acumen Dr Tompkins sees various women in Plain Tales as the components of “Mrs. Bathurst” whom she regards as the culmination of the theme of destruction.
Lionel Johnson in his examination of this volume in R L Green (The Critical Heritage, p. 93) regards this as one of the “excellent” stories.
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved