Literary Shelf

Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling

You may talk o’ gin and beer
When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,
He was ‘Din! Din! Din!
‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
lsquo;You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’
The uniform ’e wore
Was nothin’ much before,
An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,
For a piece o’ twisty rag
An’ a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.
When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
In a sidin’ through the day,
Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
We shouted ‘Harry By!’
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.
It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?
‘You put some juldee in it
‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute
‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’
’E would dot an’ carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.
With ’is mussick on ’is back,
’E would skip with our attack,
An’ watch us till the bugles made 'Retire,’
An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide
’E was white, clear white, inside
When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!
It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’
With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could hear the front-ranks shout,
‘Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!’
I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.
’E lifted up my ’ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.
It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
It was 'Din! Din! Din!
‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;
‘’E's chawin’ up the ground,
‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:
‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’
’E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
’E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
'I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din.
So I’ll meet ’im later on
At the place where ’e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.
’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
Gunga Din is one of the ballads written by Rudyard Kipling who was born in Bombay, but was a journalist, a writer and a British man. A master of Hindustani pidgin-English his case was one of Derozio, but differently withstood even though he was loyal to imperialism and adhered allegiances to. Here the scenery is one of the Sepoy Mutiny time or some battle fought and the aftermath of it as because the poem dates back to 1890 and it was included in Barrack Room Ballads. Definitely there were some ordinary Indians enlisted into the British Army whom Kipling extols it, whose loyalty, dutifulness and simple mentality laced with awkward humanly behavior, local spirit, nativity, hearty bonding, sympathy and love he appreciates and admires them herein.

Everybody is in the know of it of what it goes in the military, how their conventions and nomenclature, how their protocol and rules of mixing and so would have been they, there is no doubt in it. Even now the military life is the same, reminding us of the people in fatigue or uniform, with the rifles, rough and tough in behavior outwardly, but hearty in their laugh, healthy spirit, love of drink and brew without any whereabouts to be known to the common people as this is but the nature of the job they do, the service they render to the nation with so much obedience, order and loyalty which we cannot doubt it. Kipling has tried his best to render the same spirit by depicting the Indian character in the name of Gunga Din, extolling the job he does for; a regimental water- carrier, a bhisti he carrying water in a goatskin bag to make them drink. The language used in is but the military English, the Cockney English, the broken speech, sometimes short and contracted and mumbled and fumbled just like as if were in a song. It is no doubt a beautiful ballad of India sung by an English soldier. Even the soldier abuses him, he does not mind it, what can the Englishman make out of and what Gunga Din, God knows, whose dialect, whose humour who has the power to take into, if the one is from England while the other is from India. Is the poem a mazak, a joke between Gunga Din and Kipling?

India not, Injia’s sunny clime so full of humour, joke, caricature, fun, pun and joy tickle us when we go through the lines. Hindustani words add beauty to the poem and carry on the lively conversation. The way he addresses the bhisti is remarkable joking with, caricaturing in funny English and carrying forward the lively conversation. There may something of racial pride or prejudice which is but an outward view. Some are slow, dull and scheduled or so in complexion, it is also a fact. But some are strangely honest and loyal. How to say about anthropological, physiological and physical and mental abilities? When we talk of Gunga Din, the pictures of George Orwell’s coolie in Shooting An Elephant, Anand’s untouchable and V.S.Naipaul’s biography as viewed against the backdrop of indentured labourers on board dance before the eyes. Hindustani words add to the warmth of the poem. Din!, Din!, Din!, is just like the hostel boys say it while waiting for food with the plates and the repetition of the words adds music and rhythm to the poem.

Injia, India, Inidia, Nidia, how the comic, Ogden Nashian, Edward Learian and sometimes we do it to recreate and to laugh away the moments just as to pass time. Joseph Furtado’s poems too are just like that.

Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,
He was ‘Din! Din! Din!

Slippy hitherao, panee lao, add music to the stanzas. Gunga Din as a typical Hindustani character has not only won the heart of Kipling, but that of we the readers too. Their English, King’s or Queen’s Standard English not, but Cockney he would have failed to make sense out of that and for it gestures and broken speeches would have made forays into. The White soldiers from across the saat samudras, seven seas, how could he have conversed with? The linguistic situation is just like that of Where Angels Fear To Tread of E.M.Forster where Italian has been put against English.

‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’

The wounded soldier’s version may narrate it well how his services rendered to them, how the soldier waits for him to bring water to him and for his dressing.

I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.
’E lifted up my ’ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.

Thank God, wisdom dawns upon with the realization of it that Gunga Din is better than him, whatever be his dressing, face and complexion, but his service beyond any questioning, as man loves work, work is worship, service to man is service to God.

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Gunga Din is one of those ballads of British India which take us to the colonial times when the British administrators and the awkward Indian orderlies shared the talks together through the manageable speeches, cracking jokes with laughter, fun and pun and the present poem is no exception to that even though something of it is therein indisputably as a hangover. However, be the time of that age, Kipling definitely comes to admire the services of the regimental bhisti, the typical watercarrier carrying water for the wounded and fallen soldiers and making them drink water and serving them always at a call to attend to so urgently. A paragon of Hindustani English, Cockney English, it works marvels in the sense that he intermixes them, Hindustani words under the coating of Cockney English. The scene of the military barracks hangs it over the eyes when we sit to read the poem. What is more striking in it is the singing quality of the poem and it seems to us as if none the else, but Kipling were singing it. The British soldiers too would have been under the spate of the heat and dust of the Indian summer so would have been the ismic Indians of our society divided by caste, creed, custom, culture, tradition, food-habit, dress and clothing; region, locale, ethnicity, race; illiteracy, backwardness, poverty, underdevelopment and so on.

Gunga Din is a barrack room verse written in Indian pidgin Hindustani English under the given Anglo-Indian state of his parentage and of being born in Bombay and growing up in different Indian cities and the viewpoint of reviewing the relations in between an Indian native watercarrier and the British soldiers for whom he carries water for while on the battlefield or elsewhere where it is not available. Whatever be the outer coating, it is but a poem of intermixing, coming together irrespective of climes and environs, the sense of service which ultimately wins the admiration from even being in the midst of whatever be the situations prevailing upon. The regimental bhisti may not know the language but is sincere and dutiful and loving no doubt. Kipling through the Indian character carries the hale and hearty talks going in between. They may abuse him for being native, not for understanding their tongue totally, but they love his service without any doubt which is but an accepted truth. There are a lot of contractions and shortened speeches.

 We can sense his humour, wit and prudence. After reading the poem, we can feel it how do the convent-medium boys and girls try to speak in English? How do the foreigners? The same had been the case with the Englishmen in India.

Let us think how they would have tried to adjust with the climes and environs. How would they have manners and customs so varied in locality, environment, surrounding, nature, climate, food habit, culture, custom, language, scenery and landscape? So would be the tryst with the English, the Hindustani men in the contact of the Europeans. Gunga Din as a poem brings in the pictures of the British in India as well as the Indians recruited as to assist them. To read about the Gunga Din is to think of the foster mother seen in the black and white photograph of George Orwell when he was a baby into the hands of hers, the Indian aaya. The pictures of the Indian soldiers participating in the World Wars while in India or abroad dance over the mind’s eye. Gunga Din is a fine example of Hindustani English, how the British would have mixed and conversed with the Indian orderlies. How would an English boy have played with the Indian orderly into the British bungalow or quarters in India?

Sometimes the work of Gunga Din brings into memory the work of the watercarrier or the message-bearer during the election time. It is also a matter of taking into consideration how Gunga Din would have boasted among his people during his leisure about his mixing with the English, the White officers.

 We think from our side, but had we from side of Rudyard Kipling, how would have felt here, an alien insider! Could he have with the locals and the natives, the people of the society of that time when India was so medieval and separated by caste, class, territory, time and distance? And in him lies it the discussion why did the English not like to choose to settle in India, as for the heat and dust or for different social order consisting of various ethnic groups and races? And even if they, mixed with the people, with whom would they have aligned with, either the orderlies converted with or the lower strata people? Or, the babus brought into, is it not? The dialogue was one of England and India, Englistan and Hindustan.

Really, it is a tongue of the barracks, military barracks, and one that derives from Cockney English. Even now in the military camps of India the people from the north speaking different tongues carry on the same speech while taking on the people from the south or intermixing with one another as they speak different dialects of own. How to communicate with is the thing, how to carry on the joke and joviality is the matter which he has in a heartening way.

One should not take all the things in a negative way, there is something positive about it too rather than racial prejudice and colour bar, White man’s burden as well as well hypocrisy. As we are struggling with caste system, social custom, convention, social taboos and ghettos, gender issues, purdah system, superstition, black art and so on still now so they would have definitely then with poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, underdevelopment, hunger and so.

The poem also shows it how would it have been India then in the last decades of the nineteenth century, how would it have been the life of the people and this too how the British too would have governed a country so vast, wide, varied and split.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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Views: 3454      Comments: 2

Comment Thank you, sir. Happy to know you. Your critical acumen itself speaks of. Thanks for your comments and critiques again.

Bijay Kant Dubey
11-Jan-2021 07:05 AM

Comment Nice attempt, sir. Kipling's poem 'If' is prescribed in syllabus of our schools and colleges.'Jungle Book' became well known, thanks to Door Darshan serial.There are more humane and better equipped writers like Edward Thompson and Paul Scott who deserve more attention and appreciation.I diid my Ph.D on Raj Fiction, ['A Quest for Inter-Racial Understanding: A Study of Paul Scott's Novels'].I worked extensively on the novels of John Masters too,though he supported imperialism.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
11-Jan-2021 05:03 AM

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