Sunday, 8 October 2017

Are There Kippers Still For Tea?

Perhaps only Boris Johnson could do it? On a journey taking in Myanmar, long ago named Burma and looking at a temple he mutters out some half forgotten lines from a Rudyard Kipling poem to the horror of those whose vision of Empire is very different than that of the imperialists of old.

As mine is the generation that dumped out of Empire following on that of our parents who lived when it was at its peak and then lost most of it, for them Rudyard Kipling, 1865 to 1936, was of their parents and my grandparents generation.

Ian Jack in the Guardian points out that the poem "Mandalay" as well as referring to the Burma of his time also is about an ordinary British soldier. One apparently who would prefer to have been back in Burma with its ladies rather than in say Birmingham whose English females let us say were fat, flabby and filthy.

We should be thankful that Boris did not intone one or other of Kipling's other poems, in this context "The 'eathen" or "The Graveyard Of The Hundred Dead". Worse, he might have recalled the Bransby Williams take on the Kipling genre, "The Green Eye Of The Little Yellow God"; the tale of Mad Carew.

Kipling had been born there, son of a Yorkshire artist cum Principal of a new Art College. Kipling, however, was sent to England for his education, returning in 1882. All in all he was in India for around only 20 years of his life, most of it as a journalist and writer.

One irony is that Boris's remarks tell us that some things have not changed since the time of Kipling. Another is that the issues are now with us among the peoples of the sub-continent who have moved here in the last half century. One may be that extensive cultural and ancestral differences and centralised high tax systems of government do not go together.

This would align with Kipling's own thinking. When the Fall of the Rupee was inflicting economic damage in India and the Treasury of India was faced with a serious deficit along with major famine, Auckland Colvin introduced income tax which Kipling satirised.

Upsetting Colvin could have been a sound reason for Kipling to leave India in 1889, returning only for a brief visit in 1891. Kipling, despite being a Nobel Prize Winner, is an author those fame and popularity are now long past. He has become that relative whom we do not care to mention.  Yet at the time his style and ability to tell the tale made him readable by all classes.

His vision of imperialism, "The White Man's Burden" meant imposing peace and sound government for the benefit of all by self sacrifice. But Kaiser Bill in Germany, who Kipling disliked, had his own ideas and World War One saw the beginning of the end for Imperialism, especially with the USA determined to break the British Empire.

After Kipling's death in 1936 it was ironic that the Labour Party had among its intellectual leaders men whose families had been prominent in the Raj and derived their ideas on central control, planning and government from the way it became in India in Kipling's time and after.

This they thought was the vision for ruling the British working class, the command of the economy as well as dismantling the Empire. But we have not forsaken the idea of the Burden and indeed it has been taken up by the USA, who took over much of the Empire.

How many interventions, invasions and other warlike or peaceful forays into other nations and territories have been made in the last half century?

One difficulty is more of a handicap, it is that our rulers who carry The Burden today are not persons of high noble ideals and belief living a dedicated life to benefit us all by their wisdom and abilities.

Our Mad Carew's are in corporate financial services, lobbyists and on the back benches on both sides of the House of Commons.


  1. Perhaps our rulers have decided that it is we who should carry The Burden.

  2. Excellent essay. Only quibble, " The grave of the hundred head".