Monday, September 19, 2011

A Visit to the Bungalow of Rudyard Kipling's Birth in Bombay

The gate to J.J.School of Art was open. So what if I trespassed a bit, broke the law for a literary indulgence. The campus before me is full of trees: banyan, coconut, palm, mango, etc. Nothing seems to be maintained. There are unswept leaves on the pathways. There are wild growth of plants and vines. There are only stray individuals here and there in the campus. So I walk with authority not bothering to look like a stranger to these parts.

This must be the place where he fantasised about There's a fire by a fungus-infested small shed. Some youngsters, possibly students, hang around nearby. There aren't any security men around, so I can just walk in without asking for permission. (I know if I seek their permission I probably might never get it.) It's from these trees that the to-be writer must have gathered his first inspiration. It's these paths he trod for the first time in his life, reminiscing about his trips to Crawford Market nearby. He is the man who made India famous in his tales of the Jungle. He was Rudyard Kipling, author of Jungle Book, and other works of the British Raj days. His father John Lockwood Kipling, a sculptor and potter, was the Principal and Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the newly founded Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art and Industry, Bombay. I walk along the narrow path, ask a couple where the bungalow where Kipling was born is and the man indicates the space behind a rather run down shed. I look around at the aged trees in the compound littered with dead leaves and the moisture of rain. It's these trees he must have swung on as a mischievous child who terrorised his aunt. Then I see the somewhat majestic looking wooden structure painted green. There are vines, ancient balconies, outhouses for servants, all harking back to an age long gone. Truly, that was a different age.

Yes, terrorised his aunt, it is recorded. In a biography I read somewhere his aunt would cry out when young Rudyard would pound down the stairs, "Ruddy is coming, Ruddy is coming." He only lived in the bungalow for five years before he was shifted to England under the care of Capt. and Mrs. Holloway. (According to historians the actual bungalow has been pulled down for the present one, which seems entirely made of wood.) About the couple he wrote, "If you cross-examine a child of seven or eight on his day's doings (specially when he wants to go to sleep) he will contradict himself very satisfactorily. If each contradiction be set down as a lie and retailed at breakfast, life is not easy. I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture — religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort".

About Bombay he once wrote:

Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait.

Though he was an imperialist his writing remains one of the best in the annals of literature on India. So I saluted his bust which I found placed in the narrow verandah beside a chair, which should have been occupied by a security guard, who, alas, is not to be seen.

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