I have always found it uncomfortable reading Rudyard Kipling. I admit I am biasied. He was the classic colonial sahib, disdainful towards the colonized junta, and smug about the supposed superiority of his own race.
While reading his works, Kipling’s personal attitude often prevents me from enjoying them. There is always a feeling at the back of my head that he is disdainfully sneering at people like me for not being European. So however good the story, the feeling that, “I wish you were here so that I could slap you” remains. That is the reason I did not really enjoy the Jungle Book. I really like Kipling’s poetry, it contains humor, is simple and rather likable. “Akbar’s Bridge” is a brilliant example, “If” one of the most inspiring poems I’ve ever read is one of them. But the poem never overshadows the poet (though “If” comes very, very close), and one can never forget that it is Kipling who wrote it.
Kim, on the other hand is one book that mesmerized me. While I read it, It enveloped me , I was immersed in the rich tapestry of 19th Century India. All the characters were vividly drawn. I could feel them, see them and felt that if only I had tried I could actually speak with them. From the academic, naïve and tender-hearted Buddhist Lama in search of a legendary river, the quick Afghan who supposedly dealt in horses, the Antique Dealer of Simla to Kim himself – each character had an identity. The story was fast paced and took me through a wonderfully adventurous journey across Northern British India, and at the same time it was effortlessly seeped with culture, not forced but unobtrusively in the background, forming in part the essence of the novel.
At no point while reading Kim, did I feel Kipling’s presence. It was as if I was witnessing the story as it unfolded.
A story like Kim loses nothing even when re-read. And I know why. It is as because all the characters, all the places in the book have souls of their own. I love this book, I adore this story and I don’t care if Kipling wrote it.