The Tale of Two Suits

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in the Pioneer, 15 August 1885, under the general heading BUNGALOW BALLADS, the first of this series of six. It is unsigned, but authenticated by its inclusion in Scrapbook 2 of Kipling’s own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 257) and Pinney (p. 1734).
The “Bungalow Ballads”

Louis Cornell (p. 83) describes this series of six poems in his Chapter 3, “Digressions from Office Work”. They were published between August 15th and September 5th 1885:

In 1885, during the long summer at Simla, Kipling hit upon the notion of writing a series of comic verses for the Pioneer, the journal which had published most of his miscellaneous poetry of the previous winter and spring. He gave the series the title of “Bungalow Ballads” and saw them in print during the latter half of August.

The six poems have little merit – only two achieved even the small dignity of re-publication in Departmental Ditties – but they represent Kipling’s first attempt at writing a group of pieces bound together by similarities of length or style. With the exception of “Divided Destinies” they are humorous narratives, exercises in what we would now call situation comedy.

A wife is deluded into thinking her husband keeps a mistress, but “Lilly” turns out to be a racehorse: a lover murmurs sweet nothings into the ear of the wrong lady; another lover hoodwinks his rival into a disastrous ride on an uncontrollable horse. The stories hinge, as do many of Kipling’s, on delusions, mistakes, and sly tricks played on the unwary. In point of style they are regressions from the ease and metrical skill of some of his earlier pieces.

Since most of the “Bungalow Ballads” were never included in a collection of his work, Kipling must have written them off as a failed experiment. It would be hard not to agree with him. The “Bungalow Ballads” are not good light verse, for they lack compression and point: not only are they diffuse in style; they fail to suggest that the author’s intellect is at work.

The Poem

Andrew Lycett (p. 113) in his Chapter 5 (“Special Correspondent”) describes the “Bungalow Ballads” and recounts this poem:

Rudyard mocked gently at the hapless civil servants and army officers who surrounded him in Simla – men like the “pretty and pink” Rattleton Traplegh who was addicted to flirting with a Mrs Saphira Wallabie Smith.

Unfortunately for him, Mrs Smith’s servants wore the same blue uniforms as those of an older Simla matron called Mrs Canterby. When, one night, young Traplegh came across a closed rickshaw being carried by men in blue, he immediately thought it was Mrs Smith’s, jumped in and “whispered stuff ….he ‘hadn’t orter’”. Since the two women loathed each other, the scandal was only averted by Traplegh leaving town.

This was just the sort of trivial drama which might have occurred in the small intense social world of Simla, in which everyone knew everyone. Mrs Hauksbee and Mrs Mallowe would have gossiped over it at Peliti’s cafe, and ladies and their husbands would have recognised it and chuckled as they read Kipling’s poem in their own bungalows. Lycett goes on to make an interesting point about his poems at this time (p 114 ):

If Rudyard’s poems had a lilting musical beat, this was because he
often conceived them as melodies and sang as he wrote. He himself
noted how this tendency was enhanced in India, where Europeans had
a tradition of verse-making which stretched back to the young factors and writers in the early days of the East India Company and which was perpetuated in the assortment of tuneful stanzas published in Indian papers under pseudonyms like ‘Latakia’ and ‘Cigarettes’.

Often, at the office, Rudyard would knock off a poem, in response to some piece of news on the wires. One of his editors, Kay Robinson, recalled how he would think for a moment and then say, “I have it. How would this do? Rum tiddy urn ti tum ti tum, Tra la la ti tum ti tum” or words to that effect, hummed in notes that suggested a solo on a bugle.

Notes on the Text

Rattleton Traplegh Cornell uses this as an example of Kipling’s giving his comic characters ludicrous Dickensian names.

J—ko Jakko, the hill above Simla, encircled by a road which made a favourite evening ride.

B—e Boileaugunge, the western area of Simla.


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