By Luciana Leitão
These are three short stories, written by the great Rudyard Kipling, about India — the castes, the divisions, the political convulsion in the nineteenth century, love and drugs. On The City Wall, Beyond the Pale and The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows are very different stories and very easy to read — simple, yet complex in its content, as it should be, as they reflect a still today very diverse society.
These three short stories first appeared in thw Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and were included in the many subsequent editions of that collection. These have been translated and included in different compilations of Kipling’s work.
On the City Wall is a tale set in Lahore — Lalun, a beautiful courtesan, receives guests in her chamber on the city wall. Visited by many men, Lalun’s room is almost a political and religious hub. Wali Dad, her fan, has had an English education and feels smashed between the Indian and the European worlds.
The narrator discusses the inability of the Indian Government to keep order among the many creeds, and the plots it has to endure. On the eve of a great Muslim festival of mourning, one communal leader, Khem Singh manages to escape, aiming at leading the community against the British rule. These also seem to reflect Kipling’s views on how the British were mishandling the people and the situation. The narrator — which uses I — seems to be Kipling himself — or, if not Kipling, someone the author would clearly like to be. An intelligent story, approaching delicate topics, with extreme sensitivity.
The second story here highlighted is The Gate of a Hundred Stories, which is a story on opium — at a time when opium was booming and destroying the lives of many, comes this story. The main character is a man who lives a sad existence as a drug-addict, aware of the unawareness in his life. Beautifully depicted, this tale manages to approach different castes and members of a very diverse society and how they are all the same, when they are lost, under the power of opium.
Beyond the Pale is the story about the affair between Trejago and little Bisesa. Considering 19th century’s India, it was a forbidden romance, as it involved a sahib and Indian woman, turning into one of Kipling’s most evocative inter-racial love story. A sad story.
Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist.He actually won, at the age of 41, the Nobel Prize in Literature. These tales reflect is East-meets-West mentality, in which he combines both his worlds, attempting at an analysis to the society composition, under the cover of fiction. A very good analysis, if I may add.