It is the 750th post, and it should be something special…. Let me dedicate it to an author and poet par excellence, unjustly pilloried in recent times for championing imperialism and jingoism – but then all sort of misguided people have this inexplicable fondness for sticking on labels – and label-stickers are not known for precision and correctness.
Anyway, back to this man of letters. What people forget is the way he also relayed the voice of the lowest rank of the empire-builders, the voice of what can be termed natives – of all kinds, and even various animals, doing much more to create a sense of awe in nature than the best wildlife enthusiast you can think off – all which stamps him as a most gifted writer. I will – in keeping with my old habit of creating needless mystery and obfuscation – not name him yet. (If you have guessed, I salute you but enjoin you to silence because his work has figured in these pages before) I will just give a a short passage from his works, and a poem, which reveal his penchant and talent for humour – which could have been positively Wodehousian had he (our man of letters) not flourished much before this gifted writer.
~~~~ One night, at the beginning of the hot weather, all the Mess, except The Worm, who had gone to his own room to write Home letters, were sitting on the platform outside the Mess House. The Band had finished playing, but no one wanted to go in. And the Captains’ wives were there also. The folly of a man in love is unlimited. The Senior Subaltern had been holding forth on the merits of the girl he was engaged to, and the ladies were purring approval, while the men yawned, when there was a rustle of skirts in the dark, and a tired, faint voice lifted itself:
“Where’s my husband?”
I do not wish in the least to reflect on the morality of the “Shikarris;” but it is on record that four men jumped up as if they had been shot. Three of them were married men. Perhaps they were afraid that their wives had come from Home unbeknownst. The fourth said that he had acted on the impulse of the moment. He explained this afterwards.
(I can very well identify with the fourth man for some reason…. those who wnt to read more can do so at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/His_Wedded_Wife)
I wanted to provide more but its difficult to single out passages from A Germ Destroyer, The Rout of the White Hussars, Tod’s Amendment or Wee Willie Winkie – to name the best, or even The Village That Voted the Earth was Flat, which was going to figure here but happened to be too long. I will instead go to the poem that can have said to inspired this post, as it tugged at my consciousness until I found it out and became almost frantic in my desire to share it with you…. So do enjoy
A Code of Morals
Now Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,
And hied away to the Hurrum Hills above the Afghan border,
To sit on a rock with a heliograph; but ere he left he taught
His wife the working of the Code that sets the miles at naught.
And Love had made him very sage, as Nature made her fair;
So Cupid and Apollo linked , per heliograph, the pair.
At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise —
At e’en, the dying sunset bore her busband’s homilies.
He warned her ‘gainst seductive youths in scarlet clad and gold,
As much as ‘gainst the blandishments paternal of the old;
But kept his gravest warnings for (hereby the ditty hangs)
That snowy-haired Lothario, Lieutenant-General Bangs.
‘Twas General Bangs, with Aide and Staff, who tittupped on the way,
When they beheld a heliograph tempestuously at play.
They thought of Border risings, and of stations sacked and burnt —
So stopped to take the message down — and this is whay they learnt —
“Dash dot dot, dot, dot dash, dot dash dot” twice. The General swore.
“Was ever General Officer addressed as ‘dear’ before?
“‘My Love,’ i’ faith! ‘My Duck,’ Gadzooks! ‘My darling popsy-wop!’
“Spirit of great Lord Wolseley, who is on that mountaintop?”
The artless Aide-de-camp was mute; the gilded Staff were still,
As, dumb with pent-up mirth, they booked that message from the hill;
For clear as summer lightning-flare, the husband’s warning ran: —
“Don’t dance or ride with General Bangs — a most immoral man.”
[At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise —
But, howsoever Love be blind, the world at large hath eyes.]
With damnatory dot and dash he heliographed his wife
Some interesting details of the General’s private life.
The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the shining Staff were still,
And red and ever redder grew the General’s shaven gill.
And this is what he said at last (his feelings matter not): —
“I think we’ve tapped a private line. Hi! Threes about there! Trot!”
All honour unto Bangs, for ne’er did Jones thereafter know
By word or act official who read off that helio.
But the tale is on the Frontier, and from Michni to Mooltan
They know the worthy General as “that most immoral man.”
The author is Rudyard Kipling, who also happens to be the first writer in English to be conferred the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.