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Passage To India,
This review is from: Kim (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
Kipling is an effective and powerful writer, here writing about a young European boy growing up on the streets of one of India's teeming cities, experiencing the dazzling sights, sounds and smells of the diverse cultures he encounters very much from the inside. Kim is certainly not an outsider, he joins the beggars, thieves, horse traders and mystics he lives alongside with enthusiasm. When he is sent to be educated as a European, it is clear where his sympathies lie, more, where his heart belongs. Consider the scenes where he sees the unpleasant youth from the military college racially abusing (to put it in modern terms) an Indian man.
It is impossible not to see Kim as, partly an autobiographical figure. Kipling himself spent his early years in India, and genuine love and respect for the country is shown here.
Certainly, the portrait is not sanitised, let alone idealised, and it is of course possible to argue the merits of the British being in India in the first place, but Kipling is an author, not a politician, and can only be expected to describe, not apologise for the world he sees.
Kim himself is an engaging mixture of two of Kipling's other creations : Mowgli, untamed wild savage, and Stalky, cunning Machiavellian schoolboy.
The adventures, in the "Great Game" that Kim stumbles on, perhaps, are dealt with somewhat sketchily, and do not amount to that much more than delivering important documents around the countryside. The main part of the novel, however, Kim's relationship with the Red Lama, unlikely and bizarre though it is, is dealt with in detail.
If this book was a Hollywood blockbuster, Kim and the Lama would have started out hating each other's guts and only come to mutual respect at the end of their long travels. Actually, of course, their relationship is less melodramatic, and the mismatched pair become an unlikely double act almost as soon as they meet.
The book, thereafter, becomes a chronicle of their journies, culminating in the Lama's search for a magic river ending with him falling in a water filled ditch. This cannot help but raise a smile in the reader, but Kipling has long since engaged our affection for his characters, so there is no danger of the reader laughing at this slightly silly ending.
On the contrary, as the damp Lama muses later, why shouldn't the divine water be wherever the seeker finds enlightenment?