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.

©Daydreamertoo  *All rights reserved

Shared with The Sunday Whirl #16
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Sunday Scribblings #pleasure
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Poetry Pot Luck #47

Author: Daydreamer

I live on a beautiful island in Atlantic Canada.

30 thoughts on “Rudyard Kipling Gunga Din”

  1. You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din! This is a wonderful tribute to Gunga Din, education, Kipling… Great piece, I’m glad you reminded me to read it. I started last week and was interrupted, now returned. 🙂

    From your notes through to the end, this is an engaging read. Thanks…so glad you wordle with us.

  2. This was a wealth of information for me. Love learning, love poetry, love history, love the post, the info, the poem, the images. Well done! Truly appreciated and enjoyed.

  3. My father used to memorize the Barrack Room Ballads and other poems by Kipling and by Robert Service. When I was in third grade, we were assigned the task of memorizing at least two stanzas from our favorite poem.

    You quoted the EXACT lines I tried to recite, before being cut off by Mrs. Bolton. Man, no sense of fun, but my parents were both proud of me for attempting a classic.

    You MUST see an old Chas. Laughton/Vivien Leigh film called “Sidewalks of London.” It’s about buskers, those street performers who would entertain theatre-goers as they queued for their tickets. Laughton’s schtick is reciting “If,” and it’s a heartbreaker in a way, but outstanding.

    Thanks for a memorable post! Amy

  4. This is sweet! Poetry and history blended together. I came, I read, I learned and I enjoyed 🙂
    Thank you!!

  5. What a great tribute to Kipling and Gunga Din. I remember seeing the movie so long ago and loving the exotic feel of it. I love old movies.

    You did a very impressive job here!

  6. Odd, how visiting a thirty-something year old memory is refreshed by a poem. I’ve seen the movie, but never read the book; although, I’ve read other Kipling treasures.

  7. I’d read ‘The Jungle Book’ a long time ago. I still love reading his poem ‘If’. But Gunga Din is new to me.
    Your writing is sooo good. The description of the blistering heat is so vivid that I felt I was back in India. Your writing style is so inspiring that I hope oneday I’ll be able to write like this:)

  8. Kipling sure was the voice of his time in the British Empire! It’s interesting to see how Indians have been captured by the movie industry over the years. The changes! Thanks for this post.

  9. I enjoyed this read very much. I have used that famous line, myself, many a time…….I also cringe at the edited version of “education” that kids receive now. Yikes.

  10. to me this is fascinating as i am not familiar as i should with kipling or gunga din…some delicious detail and texture really bring this to life…very well done…

  11. I know about Gunga Din from my days growing up in the Caribbean. I’ve seen the movie too. Back then, you called someone Gunga Din if they did or said something stupid. Living in the States, I haven’t heard that term used in years!

    Excellent post! Thanks for bringing back memories.

  12. We learned a great deal by rote and it all seemed pretty useless at the time. But your post proves the value of such learning. It never ceases to amaze me how those forgotten bits come back exactly when I need them. Wonderful and impressive use of the wordle words and all those prompts.


  13. Bravo! What a wonderful post. Your knowledge of history is impressive! And your poem is a splendid tribute to Kipling’s character. I grew up in the Midwest but we also used the line: “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga din!”

  14. This post gave me much pleasure too. I relish the memories of the black and white films, the privations of rationing and of course learning by rote which did us no harm at all!

  15. A fantastic post, ddt. I love Kipling and you have done him justice in a very interesting and heartfelt poem. Written to five different prompts, I am impressed.


  16. I am thoroughly impressed with your knowledge of history and of your poem, which makes use of all the words in the ‘wordle.’

  17. Great piece! I am a huge Kipling fan and your bio of him and your take on Gunga Din is marvellous! 🙂
    Personally my favourite is The Roman Centurions Song and I enjoy his ‘Roman’ stuff more than I do his ‘Indian’ work, which is still outstanding in itself 🙂
    I wrote a sestina in his honour..I really should dig it out and post it..maybe for next weeks prompt.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

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