Saturday, February 7, 2009

Frustrate their knavish tricks

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 82-110

Our young hero, Kim, is the subject of much discussion in the British camp in which he's found himself, and it seems that no one can agree precisely what's to be done with a white boy who's been raised as a native and speaks English better than Hindi. (It boggles the mind, really. How could a young English boy prefer loose native clothing and a bastard tongue over the civilized trappings of one of the greatest nations ever to exist? Inconceivable!) However, when a letter comes from the holy man he'd been hanging around with that promises tuition money for the best school in the country, the dilemma is solved. (Money has a way of doing that, I've noticed, no matter the situation. Especially where the British army is concerned.) Anyway, Kim goes off to school, sort of against his will, but he's willing to give it a shot. It turns out that the school is populated by young men with whom he fits in rather well - British boys who've spent their childhoods (I kind of want to make that word childrenhood. But I'm restraining myself.) among Indian youth and often been raised by Indian mother figures. He seems to have a pretty good time in his first term, and when vacation rolls around, he heads off for adventures akin to those to which he's accustomed, wandering about the countryside at his leisure. When we leave him, he's about to spend some of his holiday time working for his favorite horse breeder/Afghani-British double agent. Selling horses and spying! Who could ask for more?

I didn't read that much today, but I think Kipling is deepening his treatment of Kim with every progressive plot point. His character development for Kim is somehow illustrating both a carefree, simple mischief and the balance between white power and Indian struggle. It's never too heavy - when it gets to be, Kipling just switches the tone back to one of pure adventure - but it's revealing how easily Kim can change his demeanor from white Sahib to poor Indian peasant and back again as the situation demands. I'm impressed with Kipling's sensitivity as he communicates the reality of everyday life in colonial Indian society. (Who knew? I thought it was going to be all, "Hurrah Imperialism! We love Mother Britain!" Then again, Kipling did write about the inner life of polo ponies, so you never can tell.)

Still hoping for tigers, though.

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