A contrived tale
Kipling wrote Kim more
than 105 years ago. It became his most successful work of fiction. Many
generations of the English-speaking world came to know about India
through this novel.
It has gone into
hundreds of editions and been translated into every language of the
globe. It was cited when Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for
literature. In short, Kim is regarded as a world classic. When my
daughter Mala was about to leave for Cambridge, I bought her a copy and
told her it was a must before she went to England. She never bothered to
read it. I found it in my shelf of unread books and decided to take a
second look at it.
I must have read Kim
over 50 years ago. I recollected it was about an Irish orphan Kim O’Hara,
who had turned vagabond, and a Tibetan lama walking from Lahore, where
they first met going eastwards along the Grand Trunk Road. My memory had
betrayed me. They went to Ambala by train and loitered about the
countryside. The more I proceeded with the novel the more irritated I
became with the language Kipling used: thee, thou, hast, moveth etc, all
of which had become outdated by the time he wrote.
Most of his characters
were drawn from his earlier writings: a Pathan horse-trader, a Bengali
babu who mispronounced English words (even the mispronunciations
mentioned are incorrect) to show his inborn contempt for educated
Bengali bhadralok. Every Indian mispronounces train as ‘terain’.
He packed as many
castes as he could think of to show off his knowledge of India.
Characters come and go with an appropriate number of kothawalis and
wanton women with little relevance to the theme, which in any case, is
the much hackneyed obsession of the British of Russian conspiracies to
invade India. All the so-called spies — Russian, French, and Indian
— are unbelievably amateurish. However, I plodded on and on till the
end, hoping to find out why Kim had been rated so high. I failed to do
I turned to Professor
Jamiluddin’s seminal work on Rudyard Kipling, The Tropic Sun (Orient
Longman). He devoted a whole chapter to Kim. He has rightly
quoted a few lyrical descriptions of dusk descending on Punjab villages,
paraos (halting places) and serais. he has also quoted
foreign authors extolling the novel as a masterpiece of informative
I remain unconvinced of
its greatness. It is an utterly contrived tale full of unlikely
coincidences strung together. I hope I am wrong in my assessment as I
have a high opinion of Kipling as a poet.
A Punjabi fluent in
Bengali and Sanskrit, Professor of English literature, poet,
calligrapher, translator, transcreator, publisher and guru to a
generation of bhadralok and Marwari chelas — all in one
person is Professor P. Lal, owner of the Writers Workshop of Kolkata.
He attires himself in a
long chogha befitting a guru and holds weekly readings of his
translation of the Mahabharata for anyone who cares to join in.
He has become a cult figure in Kolkata’s literary circles.
Among P. Lal’s many
translations (he likes to describe them as transcreations), his
favourite is the Mahabharata. In 1980, he produced a condensed,
readable prose version of the epic. Earlier, in 1968, he had published
the first volume of the complete translation of the Adi Parva (The
Book of the Beginning). And now "a heavily, scrupulously revised
It is a transcreation
of the complete text of the Adi Parva. It has stories other than
the central narrative of the conflict between the Kauravas and the
Pandavas. It includes the feud between Garuda and the snakes, as well as
passages regarded as interpretations that are often deleted (e.g. the
story of Ganesha writing down Sage Vyasa’s text which is omitted in
the Poona edition).
Like all Writers
Workshop books, the Mahabharata is produced in a style unique to
this publishing house. It is beautifully produced, and has a
hand-painted front page scene of Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra. And
it is as highly readable as anything P. Lal writes. After having sampled
the Adi Parva, readers will look forward to reading the complete
text, hopefully by 2008.
In praise of wine
Having finished the
first draft of translation of my favourite couplets of Urdu poetry in
collaboration with Kamana Prasad, I am satiated with the praise of wine
and women. Mirza Ghalib and Meer Taqi Meer made no secret of their love
of wine. More surprising than them are Mohammed Rafi Sauda (1706-1781),
who I am not sure was a drinker, and Akbar Ilahabadi (1846-1921), who I
am certain was a teetotaller. Sauda has these memorable lines:
Saaqi gayee bahaar, dil
mein rahee havas Too minnaton say jaam day aur main kahoon kay bas
(O Saqi gone is the
spring of youth
Remains but one regret
in the heart of mine That you never pressed a goblet in my hand
And I protested "I’ve
had enough of wine.)
lines have his usual touch of humour:
saamney, Sheikh say kah rahey hain sab
Deykhta kya hai har
taraf? Mard-e-Khuda charhaa bhee jaa
(The jug of wine lies
before the Sheikh
As well as the cup
Why look here and
They ask Man of
For Bengal CM
May I request you —
great communist — to change the name of an already mutilated name
Kolkata to Kolkatai. This minor change of "I" after Kolkata
will dramatise the whole journey from this Middle East to the Far East.
Look at it this way.
One leaves Dubai and
lands at Mumbai, and from there at Chennai. And from Chennai to Kolkatai
(if you kindly agree) and from there to Shanghai. All the five airport
names will end in "ai" and this could give a boost to our
failing AI (Air-India).
(Contributed by Jai Deb
Bajaj, Irvine, California.)