Rudyard Kipling Gunga Din

Pic taken in 1914
Cary Grant and Victor Mclaglen

I was born in 1953 just eight years after the Second World War. The present Queen’s coronation took place that year and it wasn’t until that year that food rationing (from food shortages during the war) ceased to be.

At school we seemed to cover a whole bucket load of subjects, Math, (hated it) English, language, literature, and oral. French, and along with UK history, we had to learn World History, Geography, Religious knowledge, music, science, Housewifery, art and physical education.

When I compare what Chloe (15 year old) has to study now at school, it seems they hardly learn a thing. I ask her if she knows this name or that name or this event and her replies are always: ‘No’ and, it leaves me cringing when I realise the true basics of what they are not being taught anymore now.

One of the things I loved was learning about historical figures. The movers and the shapers of the world and, although of course there have been many famous people who fought famous battles and such, there are countless others who have shaped the world through the written word just as much, too. Their influence on us is as equally strong as military leaders have always been.

One such person we had to learn about was Rudyard Kipling and as he used to live in a small house in a village called Rottingdean which was just along the coast road from where I lived and, I’d often seen his little house with its plaque on the wall stating that Rudyard Kipling lived had there. I always wanted to know more about him.

He was born in Bombay, India in 1865 and died in 1936. He spent a lot of his life in India while it was still under the British Raj.
He is famous for many pieces of work and stories including his poem ‘If’ (You can keep your head when all about you…) The Jungle Book stories …Mandalay, Captains Courageous and Kim, to name just a few.
In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature but apart from ‘If’ the one piece of his that became such a well known expression in the UK as I was growing up comes from his piece called Gunga Din which, Hollywood also turned into a 1939 movie with Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din. Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Victor Mclaglen and also Joan Fontaine.

Anyways, I’ll write my piece and then explain it.

Amidst dry cement which threatens to crack ‘neath a
merciless sun, he watches sands swept
across puny bodies of insects crawling.
It was too hot to even stretch and brush them
away from himself and besides, the morning heat would
soon kill anything tender off that may perchance wish to
walk in the heat of this day.

He sits, squat in his posture listens to the
soldiers he has to serve and, dreams.
It gives him immense pleasure to
think of the time he would no longer endure
carrying their water in rusty buckets from leaking wells
or, the whips of unkind masters.
For he was, a bhisti. A water carrier.
By all the Prophets, he knew it was his destiny
to be a soldier of the Queen just like them, too.

A detachment left for Tantrapur to repair
telegraph wires and Gunga Din did his duty
weighed down with their water supply.

Din showed three of his soldier friends a temple
made of purest gold but they were
attacked and captured by the leader of
a sect there called, the Thuggee.

He, and his three favourite men
were destined soon to die along with the
reinforcements they’d sent for unless
(though bady wounded) he could sound
a  warning Bugle call.

With bayonet wound gushing blood
covering his old whipping scars
he crawled his way to the top of the
gold dome thinking all the while
‘If I should die think only this of me…’
that I was a soldier, too!

And in notes that were clearly heard
he sounded the last warning cry.

In a hail of bullets he was shot and killed
but he’d done his best to
save the rest from slaughter.

In honour of his bravery he was granted the rank of British corporal
and at his funeral it was said of him:

(From Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din)

So I’ll meet ‘im later on
At the place where ‘e is gone —
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen;
‘E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Growing up, in England we were all taught the story of Gunga Din and, it became a well known expression if someone outwitted us, beat us in a game or, just took a risk that we wouldn’t take ourselves, whether we were speaking to male or female we would always say:

‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga din!’

So there… a little piece of history about a famous man (pretty local to where I used to live) called Rudyard Kipling who influenced a whole world of readers and my own thinking with his writings over all those years.

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