Seventy-four years after the death of the Indian-born British author and poet Rudyard Kipling, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, his reputation is still hotly debated. This is partly because of his support for British imperialism, and his chronicling of the British Raj.
The controversy over Kipling led recently to the abandonment of plans to transform the house in Mumbai in which he was born in 1965 into a Kipling museum. Instead, the house is to become home to a collection of paintings by local artists.
The house is on the campus of Sir J J Institute of Applied Art, of which Rudyard’s father Lockwood Kipling was the first dean. There were worries that to establish a Kipling Museum there might lead to political uproar.
The Chairman of the Kipling Society Sharad Keskar reportedly said: “You have a fairly ignorant officialdom in India who don’t know much about Kipling apart from that he was an imperialist or part of the Raj. Officially he’s still persona non grata. I think that is changing, but it’s rather a slow change.”
The shelving of the plan for a Kipling Museum happens to coincide with the publication by London publisher I. B. Tauris of “Kipling Abroad: Traffics and Discoveries from Burma to Brazil”, introduced and edited by the prominent British biographer Andrew Lycett. The book was launched last week at the Nehru Center in central London with a talk by Lycett followed by a reception and book signing. Lycett has already done invaluable work in providing a more nuanced and rounded view of Kipling through his biography of the author published to critical acclaim in 1999.
For “Kipling Abroad”, he has selected excerpts from Kipling’s work – including stories, poems, letters and journalism – to highlight his gifts as a travel writer who roamed the globe to an extraordinary extent.
Kipling was a great recorder of places. “Not just the physical places, but their peoples, their quirks, their smells – indeed the total experience of being at a particular place... He was such a brilliant observer of the world around him,” Lycett writes.
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