This is just a brief note to recommend the television programme Kipling’s Indian Adventure, which was broadcast yesterday. You can still catch it on iPlayer (if you live in Britain): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b071xz0p/kiplings-indian-adventure.
He told the story of Kipling in two places: Lahore and Simla. As a callow (and as we were reminded, myopic and runtish) teenager, Kipling arrived in Lahore and immediately became the assistant editor (which meant general dogsbody) of the Civil and Military Gazette. He served his apprenticeship reporting on gymkhanas and banal official visits, but he was the right person (inquisitive, pushy, rebellious) in the right place (Lahore, a small community where curiosity and boredom would send him to search out aspects of life that he would have had less access to in – for instance – more populous Bombay). Patrick Hennessey’s film stressed Kipling the rule-breaker, experimenting with opium, exploring the city’s brothels; as a reporter he was both part of the British community and an outsider. Unpopular at the Club, he socialised with ordinary soldiers and walked at night in the Indian city where most Europeans feared to tread. This is not a new story, but the film told it well. I especially liked the sequence where the presented walked through the night city, and joined the crowds watching ecstatic Sufi dancers.
In Simla Kipling examined the upholders of the Raj with the same outsider’s eye that he had cast over Indian life in Lahore. His frankness made him unpopular in Simla, but a literary sensation at home in Britain.
Patrick Hennessey took the line that Kipling’s Indian stories (and Kim) were his greatest works. They were his most original and startling, certainly, and this film has sent me back to Plain Tales from the Hills. But it’s his later stories that speak most to me, the ones in which he tried to make sense of the Great War and understand its terrible effect on some of those who fought. Maybe the BBC should commission someone to make a film about that part of his life, too.