'Commemorating Kipling on R-Day -- A Delicious Irony'

'Commemorating Kipling on R-Day -- A Delicious Irony'
The contribution of writer Rudyard Kipling, who defended imperialism and was "very rude" about India and Indians but also went on to say that he was "in love" with the country, was recalled on Republic Day at Jaipur Literature Festival.

A "delicious irony" is how author and moderator Swapan Dasgupta described it.

"It is a delicious irony that we are marking the 64th Republic Day by commemorating Kipling. However, he remains contentious as ever, having been described by some as laureate of the empire and a caricature of a pakka sahib," Dasgupta said on the author of the much-debated 'White Man's Burden'.

A common plea from the panelists, which included authors David Gilmour, Charles Allen and Andrew Lycett, was to see Kipling in all his complexity – recognising his "pretty awful political poems" while not disregarding his literary genius.

"Kipling himself said Allah had given him two sides to his head," said Allen, who has written a biography of the author.

"There is the teenage Kipling at 16 who is a lost soul here and is very rude about India and Indians. Then there is the secret Kipling who explores Lahore through his night walks and ends up in brothels, regarding women with enormous sympathy," he said.

It is through this unique interaction with the India outside of his sheltered living in British Raj that Kipling learned to love India, according to Allen.

So he, who had earlier described Indians as someone not to be trusted, transformed his opinion and went on to tell his friends that he was "in love with India".

The authors also pointed out that the much-criticised works of Kipling that seemed to defend imperialism and colonialism came much after he had left India.

"That dawned on him only after he had left India in later part of his life," opined Gilmour.

Agreeing with his colleague, Lycett said, "While the process of defining his ideas might have started, the sense of that imperialist mission came later."

Gilmour then pointed to a range of styles that one can identify in Kipling as a possible explanation of the deeply divided opinion about the author.

"I can see about six to seven different styles. But over the years, leading writers have agreed that while Kipling's politics was awful, he did expand the boundaries of English literature," Gilmour said.

Taking the idea further, Allen in fact called Kipling a paradox which was rather scary.

"The two sides of his head are very scary," he added, ascribing to the creator of much-beloved characters like Mowgli, but also someone who portrayed some Indians in a negative light besides his writings in praise of the imperialist British empire.

"While Kipling did write a lot of nasty things, he did have great deal of time for outsiders like for example the peasants," he reasoned.

As the session wound up, the panelists exhorted the audience more than 70 years after the author's death, to look at his literary contribution rather than getting embroiled in his political position.

"Kipling did like India and had sympathy for his Indian characters in a way he didn't have even with some of his British characters," Lycett summed up, as his fellow panelists nodded in agreement.
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