When recently I began to write a social history of British India, I realized I would have to keep Rudyard Kipling under control. I could not endlessly compare people to characters in a Kipling story or make points and then back them up with ‘As Kipling once wrote . . .’ Nor could I write about scandals in Simla and describe them as Kiplingesque scenarios.
I hadn’t realized, however, that I would also have to exercise control over Kipling’s place in the minds of many of the people I was writing about. Yet from the 1880s onwards he appears as a regular influence, from schooldays to career choice, to work and leisure, and even to retirement. When writing his memoirs, one figure of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) could not resist beginning a sentence with ‘If, as Kipling says (always Kipling) . . .’ Here I shall be writing about how Kipling inspired people to go to India and how they looked at it through his eyes; a subsequent article will examine how those same people lived their lives with Kipling at their shoulder (as it were), and how accurate they considered his portrait of British India might be.
Born in Bombay on the penultimate day of 1865, young ‘Ruddy’ spent five and a half years in India before he was taken to England with his younger sister Trix and left there for eleven years of schooling. In 1882 he returned to the country of his birth to work as a journalist on the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, where his father was curator of the museum and principal of the Mayo School of Industrial Arts. Displaying a precocity that astonished and sometimes exasperated his contemporaries, he had his first book of poems (Departmental Ditties and Other Verses) published in 1886 when he was 20, and his first collection of stories (Plain Tales from the Hills) two years later. Many other stories of India (and a few further poems) were to come, some published while he was still living in Lahore, others when he moved
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