Monday, 23 January 2017

Kipling's William the Conqueror and Farhad's Canal of Milk.

Kipling's 'William the Conqueror'- known to Development Economists through Wallace Aykroyd's work 'The Conquest of Famine'-  is about a group of Punjabi Civil Servants who, ludicrously- given they are from the Punjab and Civil Servants to boot- have been sent down to Madras to cope with the terrible dearth of 1878 when a quarter of the population died.

Scott, a digger of canals from the Irrigation Dept. is nonplussed to discover that Tamils don't eat wheat, they don't possess the utensils and implements to make it palatable. The supplies he has brought with him are useless. However, the goats he rounds up- apparently, Tamil goats are pitilessly abandoned by their owners during Famines- do eat wheat and produce milk which starving babies happily lap up. Thus Scott becomes a goat milker and wet nurse soon to be saddled with the sobriquet 'bakri Scott'- Scott the goat man- to his dying day.

'When you have to keep connection unbroken between a restless mother of kids and a baby who is at the point of death, you suffer in all your system. But the babies were fed. Each morning and evening Scott would solemnly lift them out one by one from their nest of gunny-bags under the cart-tilts. There were always many who could do no more than breathe, and the milk was dropped into their toothless mouths drop by drop, with due pauses when they choked. Each morning, too, the goats were fed; and since they would straggle without a leader, and since the natives were hirelings, Scott was forced to give up riding, and pace slowly at the head of his flocks, accommodating his step to their weaknesses. All this was sufficiently absurd, and he felt the absurdity keenly; but at least he was saving life, and when the women saw that their children did not die, they made shift to eat a little of the strange foods, and crawled after the carts, blessing the master of the goats.

“Give the women something to live for,” said Scott to himself, as he sneezed in the dust of a hundred little feet, “and they’ll hang on somehow.'
For Hindus, the goat is associated with Prajapati- the universal progenitor.
For Kipling's generation of artists- the goat was associated with Pan.
But 'bakri' in Punjab is the Pharmokos or Qurban.
It is the scapegoat, the Paschal Lamb, the substitute for the son demanded of Abraham.

Scott, turning into a goat-man, turns him also into something else- Donne's 'specular stone', opaque to Duality's 'He and She'- in the eyes of William who, like him, had been 'hanging on somehow' but will henceforth have something to live for though, 'afraid with every amazement', she unceasingly perish for it.
He had no desire to make any dramatic entry, but an accident of the sunset ordered it that when he had taken off his helmet to get the evening breeze, the low light should fall across his forehead, and he could not see what was before him; while one waiting at the tent door beheld with new eyes a young man, beautiful as Paris, a god in a halo of golden dust, walking slowly at the head of his flocks, while at his knee ran small naked Cupids. But she laughed — William, in a slate-coloured blouse, laughed consumedly till Scott, putting the best face he could upon the matter, halted his armies and bade her admire the kindergarten

However, Scott doesn't know himself to be as but conquered earth till a child escaped from the care of Mrs. Jim, and, running like a rabbit, clung to Scott’s boot, William pursuing with long, easy strides.

“I will not go — I will not go!” shrieked the child, twining his feet round Scott’s ankle. “They will kill me here. I do not know these people.”

“I say,” said Scott, in broken Tamil, “I say, she will do you no harm. Go with her and be well fed.”

“Come!” said William, panting, with a wrathful glance at Scott, who stood helpless and, as it were, hamstrung.

“Go back,” said Scott quickly to William. “I’ll send the little chap over in a minute.”

The tone of authority had its effect, but in a way Scott did not exactly intend. The boy loosened his grasp, and said with gravity: “I did not know the woman was thine. I will go.” Then he cried to his companions, a mob of three-, four-, and five-year-olds waiting on the success of his venture ere they stampeded: “Go back and eat. It is our man’s woman. She will obey his orders.”

Jim collapsed where he sat; Faiz Ullah and the two policemen grinned; and Scott’s orders to the cartmen flew like hail.

“That is the custom of the Sahibs when truth is told in their presence,” said Faiz Ullah. “The time comes that I must seek new service. Young wives, especially such as speak our language and have knowledge of the ways of the Police, make great trouble for honest butlers in the matter of weekly accounts.”

Thus, the Madras Famine completes the other side of its Malthusian work.
William's tears, hearing 'While shepherds watched', presage a Punjabi joo-e-sheer.
Farhad's canal of milk conditional upon the abolition of Duality's 'He and She'.
Why?
How?
Because Kipling was the poet of work and work is a just bearable panic.
Not so, Woman's Labour.


Post Script-
Acykroyd- who served on the Inquiry Commission- computed the excess profit made on each famine death in Bengal in '43 to have been about $200 back when the Gold was pegged at 35 to an ounce. Democracy, it seems, was not a 'young wife, especially such as speak our language and have knowledge of the ways of the Police'. It made no great trouble for the honest khidmatgars of the Muslim League who were running the show till Wavell sent in the troops.

2 comments:

  1. I think Kipling was writing this for an American audience and so he distorted the facts in order to create the impression that White Civil Servants in India were actually permanent settlers in a savage land, with whom Americans could sympathise, rather than bureaucratic birds of passage counting the days till their return, as pensioners, to stuffy old England.

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    1. Makes sense. I recall reading Trevelyan's 'the Competition Wallah' some years ago and thinking that the 'Anglo Saxon' party- i.e. 'settlers'- who bought up Gangetic villages after the brutal suppression of the Mutiny- were like 'carpet-baggers' after the Civil War.
      Kipling identified with the 'Anglo Indian', not the 'Anglo Saxon' party and his Gospel of Work is in conformity with Trevelyan's. The one big change is that Trevelyan's 'competition wallahs' express themselves in an orotund but ultimately facetious Baboo dialect compounded of Greek and Latin tags and furiously topical allusions to such controversies as might rage in the pages of the Edinburgh Review. By contrast, Kipling's Civilians- often of an inferior service- speak in a clipped, albeit still facetious manner and their literary allusions are more circumscribed.
      I suppose Kipling was a 'bluffmaster' as we say in India. A beardless reporter seeking to pass himself off as in the know of the thing. Thanks to his characteristic, very Indian, amphiboly, and his genius for picking out the telling detail, Kipling hits the mark though not the one everybody assumes he is aiming at. But that's very Indian.
      This story says more about Farhad than the millions of Urdu ghazals invoking his name and does so in the spirit of the jaddidi Bedil who, incidentally, also has a specular stone in his poetry. Unlike anything Ghalib or Sayyid Ahmed or Iqbal wrote, this story explains why the better sort of 'competition wallah' had begun to see, within 20 years of Trevelyan's book, that Imperialism had to go so that Work could be done properly. The pity of it is that Hulme, Wedderburn, Cotton &c looked to lawyers and pedagogues- not engineers- to turn India into a 'karma-bhumi'- i.e. a realm of work, not rent-seeking.
      In America, the 'Boston Brahmin' or whatever class it was that Henry Adams represented, were able to come clean and own up to their incompetence so Engineers did gain salience. Still, it was a horribly mismanaged job.
      There is a remarkable 'inter-textuality' between American and Anglo-Indian, or even Indian-Indian, writing in the nineteenth century. Sadly, such Literature Professors as we export to America- Spivak, Bhabha, Leela Gandhi- are as stupid as shit. But then Literature can't be taught in the Academy anymore than Love can be properly sought in the Brothel.

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