Two Noble laureates born in the same decade, in the same part of the world, write novels, in the same decade, set in the same part of the world, focusing on a young lad who is actually ethnically British but who grows up thinking he is Indian. Kipling's Kim and Tagore's Gora are both about a quest for identity and have features of the classic bildungsroman.
Kipling's novel has been successfully adapted by Hollywood and, for all I know, perhaps Gora, too, has made it to the screen.
What are the differences between the two books?
Kim is exciting, full of strong memorable characters- no 'native', 'woman', or 'lower class' person is shown to be pallid, impotent or wholly heteronomous- and it has apoorvata in connection with Vedic spirituality. This follows from Kim ('who am I?') being identified with Visvamitra (friend-of-all-the world), who taught Lord Buddha the Vedas and who, in the Rg Veda, is depicted as having special powers over Rivers. Hence, Kim gets to guide the Lama to the river he seeks. No doubt, a thorough researcher will be able to point out that some Theosophist or other had written an article about Visvamitra and Vamadeva or something and that Kipling took the idea from there. Still, theosophists published all sorts of nonsense. It took Kipling's genius to fasten on something which
a) shows Veda is relevant to present day
b) adds apoorvata to our scripture reading
such that the Indian reader can say 'Bravo! A story for both children and adults- meaningful in every age!"
Now look at Gora.
1) It was already thirty years out of date at the time it was published- a major drawback given that Young Bengal was changing extremely fast and, in any case, unlike Turgenyev 's generation, Tagore's had no special importance. By contrast, the Jugantar revolutionaries led extremely exciting lives. They had broad horizons. They were not mired in the madhouse of caste. What Thomas Mann said about Tagore's son- viz. 'he is brown and muscular- i.e masculine'- was even more true of the revolutionaries and the poetry of Kazi Nazrul, whereas Mann's criticism of Tagore- 'pallid... a nice old English lady..."- can be applied equally to the fastidious Brahmo's neo-Brahminical aesthetic.
Tagore, after a notable false start, simply fails to reflect the muscularity and broad horizons of the new generation. I'm not speaking of Aurobindo and Vivekananda but Bagha Jatin, M.N. Roy etc- in ardour and aspiration they were not exceptions, but, in fact, set the trend. I have read that Tagore himself was involved in their plot but also that the Ghaddaar's tried to assassinate him- surely a grand theme for a play- but, no, Tagore gave us Red Oleanders instead. Since Tagore himself wasn't a particularly wishy washy fellow why do we get stuck with this idea that Bengali men are all "Mamma's boys"- so good, so polite, never gets into fights, talks nonsense at such a rate that even the police spy will certify that he is 'good character- i.e. no testicles'."
2) Kim shows the Hindu Bengali and the Muslim Afghan working together to resist Russian encroachment in Afghanistan. In 1979, India should have been the first country to come forward to work with Pak to get Soviets out of that country. India shares responsibility for the terrible legacy of that aggression. What does Gora show? Sympathy for the poor and a sort of backhanded admiration for Islam. But the novel is essentially a silly and meaningless debate within high caste, comprador, Hinduism that was of no interest to anybody under 50 years of age even at the time of publication.
Kim illustrates Kipling's belief that 'children, in India, have no caste' (Todd's amendment) and consequently they alone know India and should have a say in how to rule it. Gora illustrates Tagore's belief that Bengalis have no testicles and talk incessant shite.
Gora is venerated in India as a great work of art. Kim, however, has been vomited on by Edward Said. The vomit will, in time, be wiped off. Veneration for Gora, however, serves no useful end.