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Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?

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A PRESENT FROM THE GENTLEMEN
ENGLAND HAS TAKEN ME
ENGLAND SWINGS
FRANKIE'S TRADE
GENTLEMEN-RANKERS
OAK, ASH, AND THORN
THE BASTARD KING OF ENGLAND
THE FRENCH WARS
THE LADIES
THE SONG OF THE BANJO
THE YOUNG BRITISH SOLDIER
WHEN 'OMER SMOTE 'IS BLOOMIN' LYRE


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Dave the Gnome 21 Nov 16 - 08:42 AM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 16 - 08:52 AM
Will Fly 21 Nov 16 - 08:57 AM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 16 - 08:57 AM
Will Fly 21 Nov 16 - 08:59 AM
Dave the Gnome 21 Nov 16 - 09:13 AM
Mrrzy 21 Nov 16 - 09:45 AM
CupOfTea 21 Nov 16 - 11:10 AM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 16 - 11:15 AM
GUEST,Andy7 21 Nov 16 - 11:34 AM
GUEST,Morris-ey 21 Nov 16 - 11:39 AM
Jeri 21 Nov 16 - 01:00 PM
meself 21 Nov 16 - 01:12 PM
Dave the Gnome 21 Nov 16 - 01:33 PM
Bonzo3legs 21 Nov 16 - 01:35 PM
GUEST,Senoufou 21 Nov 16 - 01:43 PM
Dave the Gnome 21 Nov 16 - 01:43 PM
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DMcG 21 Nov 16 - 02:03 PM
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Subject: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:42 AM

I'll not post the lyrics but here is a link to them.

Nowadays people just wouldn't publish anything like it but, at the time, it was OK. As a social record of people's attitudes it is a fine example. I would happily sing it at a folk club, just as I would sing hunting songs without advocating hunting.

Would you and why?

Just interested!
Cheers

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:52 AM

The title above should perhaps read Racist AND of its time.

We have a great struggle much of the time when dealing with historical artefacts. We are firstly obliged to present them as they were at the time and this immediately clashes with modern outlooks.
People living in the 'free' western world (and some others) have no excuse for perpetuating unfounded prejudices. However, these prejudices are still endemic in all societies. As someone who edits music of earlier periods I try to make it clear that these are artefacts from an earlier period and if we do not include them, or alter them, then we are denying our history which can be a very dangerous road to go down.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Will Fly
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:57 AM

I think Kipling's writing polarises opinion.

My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that he was of his time but - more interestingly than that - he was one of the few British authors of that period to write with a keen understanding of, and sympathy for India and its culture. "Kim" is a case in point, and we tend to forget that, when he was a young writer in India, his stuff like "Plain Tales From The Raj" was considered subversive and "not the thing".

The casual, accepted racism or anti-semitism or anti-feminism of a particular period is not acceptable today, but understandable in its time. I quite like some of the stuff by Dorothy Sayers and J.B. Priestley, but dislike the casual anti-semitism which comes through now and then.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:57 AM

I should have added, public performance is quite a different thing. By singing a hunting song you are not necessarily condoning hunting per se, but by singing about racial stereotypes in a derogatory way I can't see how this could be condoned, even by stating clearly it is 'of its time'.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Will Fly
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:59 AM

Sorry, Steve - our posts crossed, but I think you're quite right here.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 09:13 AM

But surely if I were to sing Gunga Din I would not be portraying my views at all but those of a soldier in India during the time of the British empire. Even then, in the last few lines, that soldier shows regret for abusing the eponymous water bearer. I suppose you would have to ensure that people did know they were not your views though! I recall someone singing Eric Bogles 'I hate wogs' and someone else, not realising it was satire, storming out of the room :-(

D.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 09:45 AM

Both, yes. I can't sing whaling songs any more, but this poem doesn't bother me as much.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: CupOfTea
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 11:10 AM

I remember being shocked when an educated young (30s) man's vehement reaction to my talking about my enjoyment of Kipling, particularly songs, was revulsion at my liking such a "fascist, imperialist, and racist" author. He would not debate this opinion nor answer what in particular of Kipling had offended him so.

I really wonder about what he was taught to make such a blanket dismissal, and it did have me looking closely at a bit of Kipling's writing with an eye for the unsavory "isms." The conclusion I came to was that he did not see Kipling in context- as you've suggested "of his times" - and ignoring that context eliminates comprehension of the author's intent and impact. I have been aware that some of what I sing requires some introduction to give it context, but singing history's songs is such a good way to give the flavor of the times. Steve and Will, above, make excellent points about this.

Not only is it unfair, but also ignorant, to critique the writings of previous eras as if they were written today. Living in a Trumped up time, "racist" as a blanket condemnation of someone's entire person implies a whole set of nasty and oppressive behaviors: active racism. In TODAY'S terms, racist means vicious threats, violent actions, intimidation, erecting barriers (in many senses) against other races. This is not at all what Kipling was about. In Kipling, I see it as a passive racism that he explored, and deplored, in some of his work. I argue that Kipling's was the racism of his times, but not of ours.

Joanne in Cleveland, aware of white privilege, and dealing with it.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 11:15 AM

Isn't the most important line in the poem the very last one?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: GUEST,Andy7
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 11:34 AM

The Magnet comic started up in 1908.

In one of the very first issues, Frank Richards introduces an Indian boy, who soon becomes an integral character in the stories, and who is welcomed into the central group of friends.

In the first story featuring the Indian boy, the class bully refers to him using the 'n' word. The Indian boy replies that he's not a negro, he's an Indian, adding, "... although I have a great respect for the negro race."

Ignoring the outdated use of the word 'negro', this shows that, while racism was deeply entrenched in society, more enlightened attitudes also existed all those years ago.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: GUEST,Morris-ey
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 11:39 AM

Racism is very much a modern concept.

It is always misguided to judge what was acceptable in the past by what is considered, not by everyone, to be acceptable now.

Kipling was not racist when he wrote so cannot be racist now. Whether you choose to use his material is a personal choice.

Someone above said that hunting songs were OK for him - some might say that they are not. Burning unfaithful wives was OK in the Child ballads - now?

I try to take everything in the context in which it was written, if you did otherwise we would have very few old songs to sing.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Jeri
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:00 PM

There's a level of understanding that involves something more than literal translation. I hear Kipling ridiculing the common beliefs of the time that non-white English folks are superior. The voices in the poem express that, while everything Kipling, and the first-person in the poem shows how wrong they are.

The poem IS "of its time" but the racist element is what it's calling out as ignorant and wrong.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:12 PM

It was obviously written as an anti-racism poem.

Now, you could subject it to a post-colonial, post-modern analysis and reveal how Kipling in his attempt to write an anti-racism poem betrayed his actual racism, and add a little armchair Freudianism to show how Kipling deep in his psyche wanted to express racist sentiments as a way of killing his father (the savage other) and seducing his mother (i.e., Queen Victoria) and incidentally promote the Imperial cause ... or you could take it as Kipling saying that relatively powerful white people should not abuse and take advantage of relatively powerless non-white people because a non-white person can be of character not only as good as but possibly superior to that of a white person.

The comparison of Gunga Din with hunting songs makes no sense - hunting songs celebrate hunting while Gunga Din criticizes racism.

On the other hand - hearing someone reciting or singing Gunga Din today, I might suspect that they are taking a little too much enjoyment in uttering the racist words that come from the 'voice' of the poem.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:33 PM

The comparison, meself, was merely for illustrative purposes. Hunting songs, Gunga Din and the previously mentioned 'I hate wogs' can all be seen as offensive if taken in the wrong way. They are all songs that may need careful consideration before singing.

I would also dispute the absolute view that Gunga Din criticises racism. I agree that it is one possible viewpoint but it could also be seen as a white supremacist being astounded to find that an Indian could be as good as him (An' for all 'is dirty 'ide, 'E was white, clear white, inside) You will also note that the narrator waits until after the death of 'good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din' before he praises him. And then only after making the assumption that, even though he was a good man, he would be going to hell. Presumably because he was an 'eathen.

Talking of hell - Just being devil's advocate here :-) I don't hold either view firmly.

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:35 PM

The nutty left will read racism in whatever they can, it's a notifiable incurable disease.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: GUEST,Senoufou
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:43 PM

Hmm, I'm not sure about this poem (I've known it all my life)
The point seems to me to be that Gunga Din was only respect-worthy once he proveded himself fearless in battle and risking his life (and losing it) to help and save his white 'superiors'. If he had merely continued fetching water and performing servant's duties, presumably they would have continued bullying and abusing him ad infinitum.

It reminds me of the attitude of my parents to their excellent dentist (in the fifties) who happened to be black. They often remarked how wonderful he was 'in spite of being a black man' (!!!) and when I was in hospital aged seven with a badly broken leg, my attention was drawn to the kindly black nurse who gently washed me. 'They' make very good nurses don't 'they'?

In a word, it's patronising.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:43 PM

Why make that comment Bonzo? There was nothing political in my question or the ensuing discussion until you brought it in. If you would like to raise the subject of whether any particular political leaning has the monopoly on idiocy please feel free to do so below the line. I would prefer to keep this discussion free of such distractions please.

Cheers

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:50 PM

Brian - Yes, probably. It is the last line in which I believe the narrator seeks to redeem himself for abusing Gunga Din so much earlier. Whether it pays the debt, I don't know. I am sure you know Kipling and his works better than I (The Widow's uniform soundtrack is playing as I type :-) ) so, do you think it does?

D.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: DMcG
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 02:03 PM

I am with Jeri and meself on this one. In fact I referenced this poem about a fortnight ago saying it showed how complex Kipling get was as a character. You should not underestimate how striking it was to claim Gunga Din could be a better person than a well bred, respectable English man.


Patronising? It would be written today, but only because most of us already accept the import of those last lines.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 02:21 PM

Mrrzy,
Why can't you sing 'whaling songs' any more? That's silly (IMO). Okay songs glorifying whaling perhaps, but there are many whaling songs simply telling it as it was, and this was a very important part of our history. The main reason for not going whaling today is that all the vital products we once got from whaling can now be produced synthetically from non-animal products. (I'm a vegetarian BTW but I sing plenty of whaling songs as part of our heritage. I'm not aware that any of these songs glorify what was done.)

Any person (IMO) who says we shouldn't kill whales for meat and eats meat is a hypocrit in my book. There, that should put the catfish among the penguins!


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 02:26 PM

I think many of you are mistaking the character who is speaking in the poem for Kipling himself.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 02:36 PM

An interesting point, meself. It is Kipling of course that puts the words in the narrators mouth but is he voicing his own words or mimicking what he hears the ordinary soldier say? And to what extent is he recording those ordinary soldiers words impartially? I am not, alas, a Kipling scholar. I am sure many could tell us the answers. Possibly many different answers to the same question in diametrically opposed ways at times :-D

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 02:36 PM

Any person (IMO) who says we shouldn't kill whales for meat and eats meat is a hypocrit in my book.

I'm sorry Steve, but that's an entirely ill thought through position. There is a vast difference between hunting endangered species for food and eating cows or chickens etc of which there are literally billions...

Apologies, Dave for the thread drift.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 03:21 PM

I had similar issues to consider when I wrote my degree dissertation on H. Rider Haggard back in 1983 / 84..

I needed to reconcile my own simple pleasure and excitement at reading his African Adventures,
with my youthful politicized student awareness of ideologies of colonialism and racism..

plus.. the sheer fun of those books brought me through some dark days following the break up of a 6 year relationship,
and serious doubts about whether I even wanted to continue and finish my degree...

I spent a year immersed in many of Haggard's novels, biographies and diaries..

[.. entries regarding his friendship with Kipling]..

Haggard came out of it quite well and I salvaged a 2:2 even though I had to drop about 4000 words
of critical analysis due to only giving myself 2 days to write the bloody thing before I delivered it at the last minute to the typist... 😬


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Will Fly
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 06:12 PM

I think anyone who wants to understand Kipling should have a read of Charles Allen's "Kipling Sahib", which deals largely with his upbringing in India and his work on newspapers, plus his early writings.

A most complex individual.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 06:25 PM

The whole poem builds up to the famous last line: "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!" - I don't know how Kipling (or his speaker) could have made it any plainer.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Greg F.
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 06:27 PM

I can't sing whaling songs any more,

Say what? Have Have Clayton's - "Whaling and Sailing Songs From the Days of Moby Dick" and Lloyd & McColl 's "Thar She Blows" & etc been banned?

What idiocy is THIS???


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:38 PM

... uh ... banned? Has something been banned? Do tell ....


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 08:48 PM

Reminds me of the controversy over Paul Robeson singing the lullaby Ma Curly-Headed Baby, and the multitude of versions of the song that, usually ludicrously, remove the "racist" allusions. Audiences of traditional songs are intelligent human beings on the whole and should either hear the unexpurgated original or not hear it at all if the artist isn't comfortable with it. There's always the option of a light-hearted health warning in the pre-song banter, skilfully done.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 09:06 PM

When I say unexpurgated original, I am, of course, not trying exclude the potential of the "folk process!" 😉


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 10:31 PM

Peter Bellamy said of the poem in an interview in Come For To Sing Magazine, that it was Kipling denouncing racism in the poem. He said many people misinterpreted it. Don't have the article to hand and don't know if the magazine was ever put on line. Jeri, summed it up fairly well before.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of it's time?
From: Jeri
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 10:57 PM

It has a similar feel to "Mandalay", which I've also heard people say is racist. I really don't understand how they could miss the point of that poem either.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 03:38 AM

Glad it is agreed it is not racist then :-)

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 04:57 AM

Anti racist.


It is interesting to see how we read this poem differently.

GUEST,Senoufou - PM 
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 01:43 PM 
... Gunga Din was only respect-worthy once he proveded himself fearless in battle...

I've always taken it that Gunga Din was constantly fearless, I've always taken this as an antiracist poem.

Within the first few lines it says
"... The finest man I knew ..."

As meself & others & BP says
Brian Peters - PM 
Date: 21 Nov 16 - 11:15 AM 
Isn't the most important line in the poem the very last one?

 "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!" 


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,Mathew
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 08:44 AM

I have always taken it to be a song of equality among men, or at least something akin to that.

Lines like   

"You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din"

"An' for all 'is dirty 'ide
He was white, clear white, inside"

I think its more of a read between the lines thing, but I could be giving kipling too much credit.

I love the song and think its positive. Would I sing it in today's crazy world of political correctness? Hell no, especially not in Canada.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 09:26 AM

Yes, on reflection, I think it is more about Gunga Din being equal to and finally better than he white 'masters'. It just shows that use of language is very important when discussing these matters. The mentioned line 'for all 'is dirty 'ide' etc. I would take as a possitive, meaning we are all the same under the skin. The more negative connotation is that 'white' is better than his brown dirty 'ide. As Kipling is far more a master of language that I, I would certainly give him the benefit of the doubt as well and point out that the language of the day had many different meanings to that of now!

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 12:11 PM

Yes, on reflection, I think it is more about Gunga Din being equal to and finally better than he white 'masters'. It just shows that use of language is very important when discussing these matters. The mentioned line 'for all 'is dirty 'ide' etc. I would take as a positive, meaning we are all the same under the skin. The more negative connotation is that 'white' is better than his brown dirty 'ide. As Kipling is far more a master of language that I, I would certainly give him the benefit of the doubt as well and point out that the language of the day had many different meanings to that of now!

It appears you're more forgiving than many on here;
You're a better man than I am, Dave the Gnome! :)


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 12:53 PM

Well - you learn something every day. It never would have occurred to me that significant numbers of people could read this poem and not see that it is about a common soldier re-thinking his racist assumptions ....


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 01:14 PM

I always like to think of Mudcat and other discussion forums (fora?) being educational. Sadly, they all too often fall into bad tempered arguments. I am not one to deal in absolutes and can often see the point of view of other people without necessarily agreeing with them.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too


:D tG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,crater52
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 01:32 PM

I suppose you could argue that it's racist but surely the whole issue of racism is that we unthinkingly denigrate people just because of skin colour/ethnicity. But listen to the intent of Gunga Din and, above all the last line. The poem says this man is a hero and, in the last analysis, 'a better man than I am.'


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Jeri
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 01:36 PM

I wonder why nobody has mentioned that before now...


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: robomatic
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 01:48 PM

I have always liked the works and poems of Kipling. They preserve an intelligent and powerful, not to mention pungent, view of an era in place and time. And what would it be without the attitude. I recall in one of his short stories a jaundiced view of Russian perfidy very much of its time. I don't think he singled out any one particular race for praise or abuse, he gave his all to interpreting the world as he saw it, and the world was colorful and complex.
I do not believe the poem "Gunga-Din" was meant to be anti-racist. Gunga-Din didn't develop during the poem, the narrator did. He revealed himself of raising beyond his original perception to something approaching the author's perception.
In the U.S. we've had to deal with many works that were clever, interesting, beloved, and limited in perception to their time. Booth Tarkington, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and our beloved Mark Twain, who rose above the perceptions of his day, even his own, with a naked honesty and use of the 'N' Word. But to yield to the desire to bowdlerize the works in my mind is to rob ourselves of understanding that we are just as bound in our era as those authors were in theirs.

I don't recall any anti-semitism in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books, but there was a background of it in his Professor Challenger stories. I still love 'em all.

Exra Pound, not so much.

We're always going to filter the works of art that we preserve from the past, and an awareness of our filters is not a bad thing.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 02:13 PM

"I do not believe the poem "Gunga-Din" was meant to be anti-racist."

Did you by any chance mean "DO believe" or "meant to be racist"?

*************

I think you'd have to search long & hard to find anti-Semitism in Pound's poetry, wouldn't you? As opposed to his truly nutso & treasonous radio broadcasts during the war.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: DMcG
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 02:27 PM

I don't recall any anti-semitism in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books

It is not anti-Semitic, but race is a key ingredient in "The Yellow Face" and Doyle ends it well.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 04:10 PM

DMcG,

Certainly agree about 'The Yellow Face', but Holmes' initial exchange with Steve Dixie in The Three Gables is pretty inexcusable.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 05:28 PM

Purely out of interest, but in keeping with Mudcat thread drift :-) I have a friend who has put quite a few Conan Doyle poems to music. Ones that spring to mind are HMS Foudroyant, Master and Song of the Bow. All pretty good and work well to music.

Cheers

DtG


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Joe_F
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 06:54 PM

For a balanced view of Kipling by a noted antiimperialist, see
http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/kipling/english/e_rkip


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 08:02 PM

Orwell's essay on Kipling is brilliant, and, unsurprisingly, is superb writing, a pleasure to read.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Lighter
Date: 22 Nov 16 - 08:23 PM

It all depends on what you mean by "racist."

In fact (and I'm serious), it also depends on what you mean by "is."

Do you mean, "Did Kipling intend it to be a racist statement by current standards of racism, or did he intend something else"?

Or do you mean, "Are some people today racially offended by it, regardless of Kipling's intention"?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,Desi C
Date: 24 Nov 16 - 11:07 AM

Certainly would and have. the P>C brigade to history a great deal of harm by attempting to ban terms which were once offensive, it's like trying to erase history. We should LEaRN from history not create some micky Mouse world pretending things never happened, that simply ensures they will happen again!


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,TheStoryTeller
Date: 01 Feb 24 - 09:15 PM

Kipling thought deeply about his writings and about people. His works were written about people and events that moved him.
"Gunga Din" begins with a comment about penny fights at home,
    "But if it comes to slaughter
    You will do your work on water,
    An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it."
Nothing of a racial put down about the bhisti or water carrier there. Indeed, Kipling poits to a respect and gratitude to the bhisti as
an heroic character who is not afraid to face danger on the battlefield as he tends to wounded men.
The poem contiues:
    "‘E would dot an’ carry one
    Till the longest day was done,
    An’ ‘e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
    If we charged or broke or cut,
    You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
    ‘E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear."
The men would yelland curse at him demanding water, but then they yelled and cursed at each other too. He was treated like any man of the regiment,
    "for all ‘is dirty ‘ide
    ‘E was white, clear white, inside
    When ‘e went to tend the wounded under fire!" --
yet another reference to his unfettered bravery, unlimited by colour or race.
But Kipling's soldier does not condemn Gunga Din to hell, he tells us that he and Gunga Din will both be there eventually -
    "So I’ll meet ‘im later on
    In 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 pore damned souls,
    An’ I’ll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!...
    ...By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!"

"Gunga Din" shows how, regardless of cynicism, British and Indian, when they met when they were only human beings, and not a geographical parcel. Kipling, like some others, must be read to appreciate many good things the British also left behind.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 01 Feb 24 - 10:03 PM

"to appreciate many good things the British also left behind."

Ah! An apologist.

Of course it's racist. It is of its time and written from a place of privilege and entitlement.

The things the British left behind - plundered landscape, altered crops (based upon what the British wanted to grow for profit, not what people grew to live on), mangled princely states, religious turmoil, and the coup de grâce - partitioning India and Pakistan.

Add insult to injury, make it even worse by filming the story with the protagonist played by Sam Jaffee. A Jewish American actor in black face. The gift that keeps on giving.

Even good intentions today go sadly awry. What went wrong for Joanna and the Gurkhas? Reparation and letting them stay in situ with better pensions would have probably served better.

Once you mess up a place, it's awfully difficult to fix it. But first you have to understand the problem. (This discussion hasn't been particularly productive in the US for American Indian tribal descendents and the descendents of Africans enslaved for hundreds of years.) Just don't pretend that when you enslaved or colonized people you were adding value to their lives. You weren't.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 02:24 AM

I would hesitate to call Gunga Din "racist." It portrays racism and the effects of racism very effectively, but it certainly doesn't promote racism. I'd hate to see literature like this be suppressed. We need to understand the racism of past years in order to recognize and eliminate it in our present time.
Same with Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird and many others.
I also think we need to see the "n-word" and hear it, to understand its impact. I don't think it's helpful to euphemize things. If we don't understand, then we're likely to deny.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 04:33 AM

That Kipling poem is clearly written in the persona of a British soldier, so it is debatable whether the poem itself is racist. It undoubtedly contains racist slurs and assumptions. There's clearly some distance between the first-person I of the poem and Kipling himself. For me the distance isn't big enough. The fact that the overall tone is comic (albeit sourly comic) doesn't help either.

Should you sing it today? The question is rather academic: nobody under 70 would want to. To sing it you'd have to be someone who feels comfortable voicing racist language to comic effect (the idea of which repulses me); you'd also have to comfortable singing a song with a very patronising ventroliquism of a working-class soldier - that in itself would be quite cringe-inducing.

It's not even a very good poem - there are far better Kipling poems you could sing.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 04:45 AM

I could have phrased the above better: apologies for my rather ageist comment ("nobody under 70 would want to"). There are plenty of septuagenarians, octogenerians and nonagenarians who would never wish to sing it, of course.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,S
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 05:36 AM

Excellent post, Joe.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Monologue John
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 05:39 AM

The Soldiers comments are racist but at the time they were The Kipling commentary isn't Have I performed this one yes with a clear conscience
It is part of our history Without a history a country has no future You carry on making the same mistakes over again


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 06:42 AM

Nice to see this turn up again after all these years! :-)

I never got round to singing it myself but that is due to lack of enthusiasm rather than any racial sensibilities. I do sing Tommy though and, even though that also may be the "ventroliquism of a working-class soldier", I think it is still relevant today.

It is good to see that Gunga Din is still being performed so thank you, John. I echo Joe's sentiments about understanding the attitudes of past years to help recognise and eliminate racism now. I am not sure if the tirade against the (now defunct) British Empire does any good or adds to this discussion apart from the point "But first you have to understand the problem". Surely this tyoe of literature does help us to do that?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 12:12 PM

I never said don't read it; quite the opposite. It is a teachable moment. To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) is a novel that also is of its place and time, and the debate rages about whether Atticus is what is today called a "white savior." He was an activist, as was the judge who handed him the case. The intertwined relationship with the housekeeper Calpurnia probably comes into that debate also.

The poem Gunga Din (from Barrack-Room Ballads) was published in 1890, and in those seventy years between the Din and Mockingbird there were paradigm shifts in how people thought and looked at race and rights and colonial activity, etc. Social Darwinism rose in the 1860s, and was apparent in policy and laws such as US immigration laws of the 1920s and the eugenics practices of the US that Hitler studied and emulated into the 1940s.

Passing one text over another, looking at how the narrator tells the story, what the writer was doing with the narrator (reliable or not), is instructive.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was from 1884, and is, like To Kill a Mockingbird, an almost perfect novel. The publisher compelled Clemens/Twain to add the last twelve chapters with Tom Sawyer because he was so concerned that the Huck Finn part by itself would repel readers. I find the last 12 chapters to be repellant - and they take Jim from being an agent in the story to being an object to be manipulated by the Sawyer character. Again, reading it with other novels for comparison.

One to add to a reading list (these all being American novels) is Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston. Examine the way characters are treated, race is being discussed, the way the narrators tell the story. What the author was writing for and about.

Novels by Kipling, by Doyle, by others can be read along with more recent novels such as the Raj Quartet by Paul Scott, written in the period from 1965 to 1975. He was another English novelist writing about India or people from India and the English while they were there.

While you're at it, look up some of the theory by scholars like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Known today for his genealogical programs, he has for years written about race. The Signifying Monkey will help as a lens through which to view those novels named.

Just don't ask me to read pap novels like The Help or The Blind Side or Dances With Wolves - those modern writers should have known better.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 12:34 PM

It is easy to imagine a musical examination of racial attitudes by going through the discussions here at Mudcat of which other songs are appropriate to perform any more. I'm sure a search will bring up a robust list, this is a frequent topic of conversation on the 'cat, and it has been made clear that they won't be deleted just because they are inappropriate today. Google's response to your keyword search might be interesting.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Charmion
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 01:18 PM

When you consider that soldiers who respect and like each other profoundly will frequently address each as "hey Fuckface" (I have lived this experience), the language of "Gunga Din" looks comparatively mild.

As I read this poem, Kipling's soldier is marvelling at the goodness and valour of this very humble person, lowlier even than the common soldiers (the scum of the earth, enlisted for drink) for whom he hauls water. In his own idiom, the soldier describes the gap yawning between what the army has taught him to think of Gunga Din and the reality of the man, revealed by his performance under fire and his kindness to the wounded. Don't be distracted by the racial slurs; that's irony, people -- a feature, not a bug. The dramatic tension is released with that last line: "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 02:50 PM

Well said Charmion.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,S
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 03:38 PM

Indeed, Dave (and Charmion).


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 04:32 PM

I've been told that many of my songs are politically unacceptable.

All these arguments have a sort repetitious quality. Shakespeare was anti semite; Oscar Wilde was a sexual predator; Agatha Christie was a snob; Hilary Mantel romanticised a sadistic murderer; and lest we forget Seamus Heaney was the laureate of violence.
The point is that the artist creates. That is the miracle. Frequently the artist cannot control what his nature produces.

Always respect the miracle.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 02 Feb 24 - 08:10 PM

I don't think we're disagreeing. We are products of our times and these authors were the fish who didn't see the water they were swimming in at the time. Their art is still art, but is viewed differently when looking back. Like Al said.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Thompson
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 01:27 AM

Kipling was a colonialist and a racist. It doesn't excuse this to say "so were plenty of people" - the same is true now. Plenty of people weren't racist then, plenty of people weren't colonialist then. He was a flake and a creep.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 03:12 AM

I don't know if he was as I never met him! I do know that he was a brilliant writer though. That opens the argument about whether works of art should be vilified because of the character of their creators. That has been discussed many times elsewhere and is not the question being asked here.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 03:38 AM

i would not sing it.I would not sing Hugh of lincoln either
in my opinion his best work was the jungle book with regard to hunting songs , I sing BOLD REYNARD THE FOX.
Kipling was an establishment mouth piece, i guess that was the reason Peter Bellamy liked him.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 03:58 AM

apropos of Kipling, he had in my opinion as regards writing and political opinions similarities with Henry Willamson[ Tarka the Otter, both were excellent writers about things connected with nature.
Williamson was an admirer of Fascism, as was Richard Reynell Bellamy, KIPLING was a jingoist colonialist right wing glorifier of the british empire


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 05:44 AM

Gunga Din
By Rudyard Kipling
You may talk o’ gin and beer   
When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,   
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter   
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.   
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,   
Where I used to spend my time   
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,   
Of all them blackfaced crew   
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,   
      He was ‘Din! Din! Din!
   ‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
      ‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
      ‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
   ‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’

The uniform ’e wore
Was nothin’ much before,
An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,
For a piece o’ twisty rag   
An’ a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.
When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
In a sidin’ through the day,
Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
We shouted ‘Harry By!’
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
   ‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?   
      ‘You put some juldee in it
      ‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute
   ‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

’E would dot an’ carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.   
With ’is mussick on ’is back,
’E would skip with our attack,
An’ watch us till the bugles made 'Retire,’   
An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide
’E was white, clear white, inside
When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!   
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’
   With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.   
      When the cartridges ran out,
      You could hear the front-ranks shout,   
   ‘Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!’

I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.   
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.   
’E lifted up my ’ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.
It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
      It was 'Din! Din! Din!
   ‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;   
   ‘’E's chawin’ up the ground,
      ‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:
   ‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’

’E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.   
’E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
'I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez 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!
n/a
Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: DaveRo
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 07:51 AM

An A to Z index and the text of every Kipling poem is on the Kipling Society website
Poems A to Z
and many of them have a page of notes, such as this
Notes to Gunga Din


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 09:09 AM

If we were only allowed to write about people who were kind and virtuous and respectful of racial, sexual identities and expressed themselves with humanity and restraint....
Well I am sure it would satisfy the natures and tastes of some people, but it wouldn't leave much of human culture. Plus of course it would be untruthful.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 10:11 AM

If it ever was a standard performance piece at folk clubs it certainly isn't now. I've never heard anyone perform or recite it in nearly 20 years of going to folk clubs and it would go down extremely badly at any of the folk clubs I go.

If anyone performed it at my local folk club I wouldn't be the only person having a quiet word with the performer asking them not to do so again. The viewpoint that the poem expresses is ambivalent - liberal perhaps even radical for its time - but couched in all sorts of outdated values and assumptions about race and class.

Ask yourself how you'd feel as a person of Indian descent listening to that. Then remind yourself that you don't know who's in your audience. Loads of people don't realise my partner is Anglo-Indian and once or twice over our long time together I've been in situations where someone has been extremely embarassed after they've said something slightly racist and she has informed them about her heritage using let's say colourful language.

If I were at a folk club and someone 'performed' that poem, I'd be coming over to have a word afterwards.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Charmion
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 11:26 AM

Matt Milton, I guess I'll have to stay away from your folk club -- not that I have the chops to pull off a performance of "Gunga Din". Jim Croce (of all people) did a marvellous job of it on his first album, "Facets", released in 1966.

As I said upthread, "Gunga Din" is a highly ironic piece intended for audiences capable of understanding the difference between words and meaning. To "get" the meaning and unbutton the irony, you need to know rather a lot about the British Army of the Victorian era, and a fair bit about the King James Bible while you're at it.

In the last stanza, Kipling identifies Gunga Din with Lazarus (of Dives and Lazarus fame), who in legend went to Hell to ease the suffering of the damned. All through the poem, he contrasts the harsh terms used to describe and address Gunga Din with the man's kind and courageous behaviour. He puts the whole thing in the mouth of a British soldier to highlight the cognitive dissonance that is a necessary part of the colonialism.

It's not a text for single-minded modern people unwilling to dig down beneath the surface.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: meself
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 11:45 AM

"you need to know rather a lot about the British Army of the Victorian era" - Of course, 'rather a lot' is relative, but I don't think you really need to know much at all about said subject to get the idea of the poem; it's fairly obvious, isn't it? I mean, I understood it when I read it as a kid, and, while I was certainly 'bookish', I wasn't a genius then or now, by any stretch.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Charmion
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 12:42 PM

I didn’t get the cognitive dissonance until I was well up in my 30s and had been reading about the Vietnam War.

But it’s a work of art, and therefore has enough layers of meaning for readers of any age. I must admit I like it a lot more now than I did in my far-distant youth.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 01:32 PM

DtG: Nowadays people just wouldn't publish anything like it but, at the time, it was OK. As a social record of people's attitudes it is a fine example. I would happily sing it at a folk club, just as I would sing hunting songs without advocating hunting.

Would you and why?


If I would and you would not, it is proof positive we are not one person and nothing else. Artist and the planet Earth, for all time no less, all being on the same page of anything would be the so-called 'end times' methinks. And a bore to boot.

Uncle Tom's Cabin... the most effective work of abolitionist art ever aaaand... oooooorrr hopelessly racist dreck. Or harmless symbols if one don't read the lingo at all. But it's just the one (1) book, not three (3.)

Stephen King + 200 years is going to confuse a few readers about the times and the writer. You can bet on it, but you'll never collect.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,paperback
Date: 03 Feb 24 - 03:11 PM

I suppose Ganga Din and his fellows had their pet name for the British too only they never made it into print

Twenty years or so ago I was called a Wigger. I've only just (in the past few years) learned what that means.

I remember being alittle taken aback the first time someone called me a White Guy.

Now it's common.

I guess applying the Golden Rule in hindsight is abit foolish albeit all the rage nowadays.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 04:57 AM

Interesting point in the notes on the poem linked by DaveRo

"I consider this poem to be an Act of Contrition"

I had never thought of it that way but, yes, it could well be.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 08:46 AM

I doubt anyone will change their minds over this. Those who see it as perpetuating outdated stereotypes and attitudes will continue to do so and won't be persuaded. Those who see it as challenging them will also continue to do so. The power of poetry, and indeed of any art, is that it can have multiple meanings and mean different things to different people.

The same is true of Kipling himself. Some see him only as an imperialist and a racist, and dismiss him accordingly. He was both of those. He hated Germans and was distrustful of Jews, although he admired some aspects of Judaism. On the other hand seems to have admired the people of India, and worked to ensure that the contribution of Indian troops in WW1 was recognised. Like anyone, he was complex and sometimes contradictory. For all his undoubted faults, many of his writings were highly relevant at the time, and many still resonate today - read 'Mesopotamia' and ask yourself if the "idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died" are any different today.

Of course he was a man of his time - we all are. We should be cautious about judging previous periods by our own standards. The religious persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries were carried out by people who believed they were doing God's work and would be rewarded in heaven. The slave trade was facilitated by god-fearing churchgoers who no doubt thought of themselves as good people. Every generation thinks that its standards are the correct ones. I have no doubt that in a hundred years' time many what we now think of as enlightened and modern attitudes will appear to be similarly outdated and misguided.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 09:32 AM

very well put, Howard.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 10:20 AM

It does not appeal to me as a song so I would not sing it, as regards poetry, I prefer Hardy, just a matter of taste rather than anything else. I even prefer Fox Smith as a poet.
as for the standards in hundred years time, that is speculation, whether they will consider past standards misguided is something none of us know.
Therefore I cannot see the relevance of the quote as to how we might view standards of the past
Howards statement is an opinion, but it is not based on anything factual, it does not follow automatically that because some people today crticise the standards of the past,that futore generations will critics todays standards


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Thompson
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 12:20 PM

Yes, he was a wonderful writer of fiction; as a child I had a spell of a dangerously infections disease and was given only books that could be burnt after reading, so I read a lot of 19th-century books considered suitable for children. I loved the stories, but references to "fuzzy wuzzies" and other supposedly inferior races not so much. I found the combination of kindness and heroism with contempt for different humans hard to code.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 12:51 PM

Of course my statement about standards in a hundred years time is speculation, but it is a reasonable assumption. Society's standards are constantly evolving - they have changed considerably over my own lifetime. To give but one example, attitudes to homosexuality are now completely different from when I was young. It is reasonable to assume that this evolution will continue, in fact it would more be remarkable if it did not. I am warning against the assumption that we are more virtuous than previous generations, when in many cases all that means is that our priorities are different from theirs.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 02:21 PM

Two great posts, Howard.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 02:44 PM

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.


Kipling and his mates were third in line after the Dutch & French. Only the Brits thought that was an improvement and the urbane anti-colonial Kipling reader has always preferred an Upper Paleolithic/Pre-Columbian North America.

There are two things in the world I can't stand: people who are intolerant of other people's cultures... and the Dutch.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 04:00 PM

Truly late reply, but my choice not to sing whaling songs, because I disapprove of whaling, was not an admonition for others not to sing whaling songs. I encourage everybody to sing songs they enjoy singing, and to stop singing songs they no longer enjoy singing for personal reasons.

Also, racism is hardly a modern concept. People have been bigoted against outgroups since forming ingroups. In fact, it's pretty much a sine qua non.

Vivent les différences!


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 04 Feb 24 - 11:05 PM

Howard is correct about Mesopotamia—it is powerful. The date pretty much says it all as far as who he was thinking of.

Mesopotamia

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

1917

They shall not return to us, the resolute, the young,
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
    Are they too strong and wise to put away?

Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide—
    Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour?
    When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends,
    To conform and re-establish each career?

Their lives cannot repay us—their death could not undo—
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?


The fact that it doesn't say who or where, just relative age and power juxtaposition, allows the words to pull current events to mind.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 05:08 AM

Wow! Never read that before and it is indeed powerful. Didn't Kipling lose a son around then?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 06:44 AM

That’s the first time I’ve read ‘Mesopotamia’ too, Dave - what a powerful piece of writing! You’re right about Kipling’s son, 2nd Lieut. John Kipling was killed during the Battle of Loos in 1915.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 06:46 AM

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/rudyard-kipling-s-first-world-war-tragedy-1.2190731


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 08:39 AM

It was I who mentioned homosexuality as an example of how society's attitudes can alter, which is why we should be cautious about applying our own values to the past. Of course different societies and at different times have different attitudes, and even a single society at a point in time won't agree on everything, which is why we have politics. However my point stands - history tells us it is reasonable to expect that attitudes will be different in a hundred years time, and that our own attitudes and certainties will look out-of-date and wrong.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 09:51 AM

The discussion is not about homosexuality but about how we should regard Kipling's attitudes and opinions. They appear out of date and perhaps unacceptable to us, but our own certainties may appear similarly out of date in another hundred years. It is fair to criticise him, but in doing so we should be aware that we are not uniquely wise, and that we too might look very suspect to future generations.


The non-sequitur post was removed. The brief reference is fine - but Dick taking the bit in his teeth and running with a change of subject is not. ---mudelf


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 11:49 AM

Howard said
> I doubt anyone will change their minds over this. Those who see it as perpetuating outdated stereotypes and attitudes will continue to do so and won't be persuaded. Those who see it as challenging them will also continue to do so. The power of poetry, and indeed of any art, is that it can have multiple meanings and mean different things to different people.

Sadly, discussions such as the one on this thread do tend to consist of one faction arguing some point of view in various ways while the other faction argues the opposite, with few if any being persuaded to change their views.

I see the Gunga Din poem as intended to demonstrate that assessing someone on the basis of their race is an unsound principle.

I started writing some more but it would belong below the line so I'm not bothering.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 02:09 PM

Richard, this thread and discussion of that poem are, as pointed out earlier, a teachable moment for all of us. If you take a scholarly dive into the theory of semiotics (started by Ferdinand de Saussure - using his word semiology) it can give depth to this discussion. The first blip I see is in Europe in the early 1880s (on the Google Books Ngram Viewer). The English word Semiotics starts rising in usage in about 1942. (A date not necessary to what Kipling understood so much as much as an introduction to what I'm trying to say.)

In its most basic form, semiotics says that the words (signs) written have meaning to the author but have different meanings to each reader based upon their experiences. Right from the very first day in print. If I, who am from the heavily wooded Pacific Northwest read the word "tree" I tend to first visualize the tall conifers of my homeland unless it is further defined with a genus or common name (live oak, pine, etc.). What we visualize depends on what we have experience of. It extends everywhere - food, clothing, modes of travel, work.

That said, the words in Gunga Din are extremely loaded when describing that world. In the day it was written the readers understood it better than we do today. The vernacular of a soldier uses colloquial and idiomatic terms. Slang ebbs and flows, terms we considered one thing in the 1950s or 60s have completely changed today ("gay," for example.) The meaning of the names and curses. As Howard said, societies' standards are evolving. We can't assume everyone who read it thought it was acceptable that a native man - employed or indentured or possibly enslaved - who carried water who had little agency, few garments, no adequate gear for the work he was doing - should be in that situation.

Perhaps most of the poem's readers didn't see the status quo, that water they were swimming in, as a huge imbalance of power and agency, though scholars in the day were beginning to discuss these things. It does read like it was written to influence how people saw that world. In which case it puts him in the same boat as Harriet Beecher Stowe (someone mentioned Uncle Tom's Cabin up thread).


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Feb 24 - 02:54 PM

Kipling represents the viewpoint of the British political establishment of that time, he was a mouthpiece for imperialism. imperialism relies upon exploitation to succeed.
Kipling used his writing as a propaganda tool. but is this particular poem, racist? or is it just an attempt to glorify the empire


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 07 Feb 24 - 05:58 PM

I can't see it being the latter, Dick, as I cannot find any glorification of anything (apart from the eponymous water bearer) in there. What makes you think it may?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Feb 24 - 05:22 AM

Gunga Din is a fictional character created by Rudyard Kipling in his poem of the same name.
Gunga Din" is named after the Indian and portrays him as a heroic character who is not afraid to face danger on the battlefield as he tends to wounded men.
It is debatable what Kiplings intention is with his fictional Gunga Din
Contrast it to Hardys poem, here which gives a different perspective of war

Christmas: 1924
by Thomas Hardy
" Peace upon earth!" was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.

My Point is that Kipling never attempts to get to the root cause of war, Why is the battle taking place? is it to further the ambitions of the British Empire and colonialism, is it in a subtle way a bit of propaganda to excuse the ambitions of the British Empire by Selecting Gunga Din in this fictional poem.
Kipling as a propaganda tool of the British establishment uses this poem to give the impression that the British Establishment cared about water bearers or soldiers killed in war,when the facts of the first world war, show that they didnot



Line breaks added for clarity. ---mudelf


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 08 Feb 24 - 11:00 AM

Fairy Nuff. I don't see it that way myself but wouldn't life be boring if we were all the same! :-D


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 08 Feb 24 - 11:31 AM

I can see where Dick is focused - Kipling's representation gives no sense of Din's consciousness of his own condition, no agency. He's an Indian straw man for Kipling. Good point. This goes back around to the earlier observation about "white saviors" - Kipling writes from the point of view of the narrator/soldier who is praising Din. A poem written from Gunga Din's POV, whether written by Kipling or someone else (possibly an Indian author!) would be starkly different.

I wonder how an activist, someone like Audre Lorde, might have written that poem. (I've shared some of her poetry here before - a Google search lands on my post from July 4, 2008 when Jesse Helms died.)


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 08 Feb 24 - 07:38 PM

It seems Kipling is damned whatever he does. He writes a poem which expresses the idea (possibly startling for its time) that an Indian might be a better man than a British soldier, and is condemned for not writing it from Gunga Din's point of view. Such a poem would undoubtedly show a different viewpoint, but that misses the point. The poem carries such an impact, and still does today, because it comes from the viewpoint of someone who had regarded Gunga Din as his inferior and treated him as such, but then quite unprompted declared him to be the better man.

The poem is not about war, and the battle and the cause of it are entirely incidental.

Neither do I agree that Kipling was a spokesman for the establishment. He was certainly an imperialist, and he undoubtedly supported some government policies. However he was also highly critical of other policies, and many of his poems warn about England's lack of preparedness for the threat from Germany. When WW1 came he initially strongly supported it, although it was then widely seen as a righteous war. However he later changed his mind, although possibly not before the death of his son.

Kipling was a human being, and you cannot simply reduce him, or any human being, to a few sweeping statements. We are all more complicated than that.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 08 Feb 24 - 07:56 PM

Howard, we would have to discuss Kipling's entire oeuvre to arrive at a conclusion about his political positions and about what matters he changed his mind. The poem is a snapshot and this discussion is what it is, a look at that moment in time with some reference to what more that people know about the background of the period. You will note that people are referring to other works, and are reading the poems in question.

However, a poem that is firmly situated in a wartime situation certainly is about war.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Feb 24 - 08:45 PM

Just a tiny point, which MaJoC, in his erudition, might have picked up but didn't: it's "ad nauseam," not "ad nauseum," the latter being a common error. The Latin "ad" takes the accusative case, "nauseam," for the Latin noun "nausea."

As for Gunga Din (a fictional character, so never just "Din"), I completely agree with Howard's excellent post. Whilst I'm no fan of Kipling in general, I see the poem as a simple but on-the-money expression of thoughtful feelings and (possibly guilty) reflection, and several people are making the mistake of reading far too much into what they see as alleged racist and imperialist undercurrents. You might find that elsewhere in Kipling, but not in this poem.

Interestingly, Kipling regarded himself as persona non grata in the US, and, as a result, left the country. Worth a delve.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 01:03 AM

If MaJoC the Filk had posted in this thread that might be germane. No one used that remark in this thread. ??

What you see as a "mistake" is simply the reading other parties give the poem.

A poem with gut-shot men in the background may have begun with a narrator reflecting on that earlier time, but the crucial events are in a time of war. We will have to agree to disagree if you think this isn't a war poem.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 03:07 AM

Interestingly, Kipling regarded himself as persona non grata in the US, and, as a result, left the country. Worth a delve. quote to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies"Well he would, wouldn't he?"


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 03:36 AM

Kipling reluctantly left America in 1896 amid a family altercation. “There are only two places in the world where I want to live,” he claimed. “Bombay and Brattleboro.
In 1896, bubonic plague broke out in Bombay.
stranger and stranger


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 04:10 AM

Gunga Din is a war poem in the same way that Titanic is a film about a ship's argument with an iceberg


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 04:58 AM

We shall have to disagree with what we mean by a "war poem". To me, it is a poem which makes you think about the purpose and reality of war itself. Some poems glorify it, some do not. A poem set against a background of war is not necessarily a war poem.

In the case of "Gunga Din", warfare is simply what has brought the two men together, and the battle is simply the situation which made the speaker realise that Gunga Din was the better man. The nature of that warfare and the reasons behind it are irrelevant to the story. The battle might have been fought for good reasons or for bad, it makes no difference.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 05:33 AM

Again, spot-on from Howard. Trying to rustle up a confected argument about whether it's a "war poem" or not is a puzzling diversion to say the least. I don't need to either agree nor disagree with that, to be honest. It's simply not an issue at the heart of this discussion.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 11:10 AM

The nature and reasons are irrelevant only to white European or EuroAmerican readers.

That doesn't make them irrelevant to someone of Indian descent who is likely to bring a different reading to the poem setting. And if a list of poems set in or to do with war was assembled for a class to study, this would fit in. Searching on British and war and India you end up with wide-ranging answers, because of the Indian soldiers who fought in other countries and continents. I thought I had a timely answer on one page, but the author was discussing the Boer War later in the Transvaal of Africa. So many colonial wars to sort out.

For many Indians, Gunga Din is a traitor. Not far down the page comes commentary from Arindam Banerjee:
I read Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" with the greatest pleasure. His insight into the true Indian character is most genuine and positive. Sadly, just as the British character has changed into some American, the Indian character has changed, similarly. As part of this change, jungles have been cut down to make more money. So that India Kipling wrote about is lost. Still, we do have his wonderful writing left, and so, even if he is abused today, it shows how relevant he was in his time.

As for Gunga Din, I am interested in him. He was a high caste Hindu loyally serving the British. Was he a traitor, or a person who knew that by serving a people with superior organisation and technology as well as possible, benefits would come to his own people in due course? I would like to believe the former, but I think that would go against the grain of most Indians.

Further down he gives a longer explanation:
Gunga Din is about the last name any self-respecting Muslim would take in the 19th century.

Gunga is the Goddess Ganga, the mother of Bhishma of the Mahabharata, brought down to Earth as a result of much prayer from the suffering Indian population, afflicted by the heat.

No Muslim has the name Ganga. It is pagan and idolatrous, and thus would be sacrilegious, especially in those times.

Din means day in Hindi, but Deen means poor and probably that is what Kipling had in mind. Just that Din sounds better on the drums than Deen. Deen is often used in Hindu naming, one of the most famous being Deen Dayal Upadhyay. Deen Dayal means being kind to the poor.

Gunga Din was a Hindu, 100%. After 1857 the Muslims in the British Army declined in numbers, for obvious reasons. Hindus got their chance, to succeed, as the Muslims had been responsible for the massacres of innocent men and women in Kanpur. Many Muslims were dispossessed. It took decades for them to make a comeback, till Sir Syed Ahmed Khan went to London and convinced the English that they were "brothers of the Book".

Ganga Din was most likely a Brahmin, for Brahmins were very poor so, Ganga Deen meaning Ganga the Poor was quite all right as a name for the poor Brahmin.

Gunga Din was a bhishti or water-carrier in function, but in practice no professional bhishti goes to the field of battle. He was a lowly functionary doing the job of a bhishti. An orderly, one of most low paid employees. Their jobs were to fetch and carry in general, but in GD's case his job was to supply water to the troops.

Not all the troops were British, and the non-British soldiers were high caste Hindus, of the martial type. They would not accept water from a low caste or a Muslim, but they would accept water from a Brahmin.

Kipling shows a very high regard for Brahmins, as evidenced in his story "The Miracle of Puran Bhagat". And why not, for the Brahmins supported the British Raj in the most ardent way, along with other high castes.

Like many discussion groups, this one has a lot of back and forth and descends into invective that isn't helpful. But it gives a view of Gunga Din from the other side.

Back to the object of thread title, racism is overt in other of Kipling's poems. Searching on his name with "war poems" and the results are more likely to show for WWI, but another poet rose to the surface in this search, an Indian viewing British warfare with Indian soldiers. This article is fascinating and links to The Gift Of India by Sarojini Naidu

Nine years after publishing Gunga Din, Kipling wrote The White Man's Burden. Read that and then read Gunga Din (pass one text over the other) and it seems fair to this critic that Kipling can be accused of racism, whether as a white savior (sympathetic) is another matter.

I've changed my mind a number of times through this thread and tracked down various points people have discussed. Links to outside scholarship helps for illustration.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 11:42 AM

Gunga Din is an entirely fictional character born of the imagination of the author of the poem.   I wonder what the point is of speculating whether Gunga Din was a traitor, what his name meant or what his religion or social standing might have been among Indian people. He's not a real person and his character was constructed to fit the needs of the author of the poem. It's likely that there was some clumsiness in that characterisation (let's call it poetic licence). You may think that's worth a pound or two of speculation, but the bottom line is that the soldier in the story, a white man, felt so humbled by Gunga Din's noble actions that he felt compelled to articulate his feelings in the final line of the poem - the one thing that most sticks in the mind of almost everyone who's ever read the poem. Look elsewhere in Kipling's body of work if you want to find racism or imperialism. The overriding sentiment at the conclusion of the poem is good.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 12:37 PM

Again, we will have to agree to disagree. One of us studied literature in graduate school and has had many opportunities to dissect poems. These discussions were fruitful, usually wide-ranging, and the result is rarely ever one where everyone arrives at the same interpretation. We bring to what we're reading what we understand of the world. This is the semiotics part of the discussion above. The "overriding sentiment" is probably confined to an older English or European demographic. It reflects a Formalist approach to literature, where the focus is on the words, not the historical relevance.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 12:38 PM

But can you trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 05:39 PM

Well poems are not generally written for literature graduates, any more than Beethoven wrote his symphonies for professors of music. Mozart was delighted when he heard the ordinary people of Vienna whistling tunes from the Magic Flute in the streets. Scholars who pull poetry (or symphonies, or great paintings) to bits in order to analyse them certainly have their place, and I for one enjoy many of their erudite writings. Many of the rest of us are more than capable of appreciating the sentiment of the poems we read and of putting the poems in their historical contexts (could be a bit of a leveller, that last one, actually). When it comes to understanding works of art, poetry included, there are many layers of appreciation possible, and the literature scholars by no means enjoy a monopoly thereof.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 09 Feb 24 - 06:00 PM

No they don't have a monopoly, but telling us that the overriding sentiment is this or that is a dogmatic approach to the understanding. It is one view of many.

For those who haven't read too many of the free New Yorker articles yet this month, here is an overview of his life: Rudyard Kipling in America
What happened to the great defender of Empire when he settled in the States?

The first paragraph:
Rudyard Kipling used to be a household name. Born in 1865 in Bombay, where his father taught at an arts school, and then exiled as a boy to England, he returned to India as a teen-ager, and quickly established himself as the great chronicler of the Anglo-Indian experience. He was Britain’s first Nobel laureate in literature, and probably the most widely read writer since Tennyson. People knew his poems by heart, read his stories to their children. The Queen wanted to knight him. But in recent years Kipling’s reputation has taken such a beating that it’s a wonder any sensible critic would want to go near him now. Kipling has been variously labelled a colonialist, a jingoist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a misogynist, a right-wing imperialist warmonger; and—though some scholars have argued that his views were more complicated than he is given credit for—to some degree he really was all those things. That he was also a prodigiously gifted writer who created works of inarguable greatness hardly matters anymore, at least not in many classrooms, where Kipling remains politically toxic.

And further down the article, a discussion of his living in Vermont and after having his drunken brother-in-law arrested and a notable trial with lots of press:
Kipling was so mortified that he decided he had no choice except to move back to England. “There are only two places in the world where I want to live,” he said. “Bombay and Brattleboro. And I can’t live at either.”

Three years later, the Kiplings gave America another chance. They arrived just when the most tone-deaf and offensive of all Kipling’s poems, “The White Man’s Burden,” was about to be published. Kipling intended it as a sort of imperial spine-stiffener, urging America to colonize the Philippines and join England in the task of “civilizing” supposedly backward nations. And, almost as soon as he landed in New York, it was already being both praised and parodied.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Feb 24 - 05:13 AM

Sorry Stilly but when you say "telling us that the overriding sentiment is this or that is a dogmatic approach to the understanding", do you mean telling people things like

"A poem with gut-shot men in the background may have begun with a narrator reflecting on that earlier time, but the crucial events are in a time of war. We will have to agree to disagree if you think this isn't a war poem"?

Am I missing something in the word dogmatic that excludes anyone insisting that it is a war poem?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 10 Feb 24 - 10:48 AM

It means we have two different readings of it.
Trying to rustle up a confected argument about whether it's a "war poem" or not is a puzzling diversion to say the least. I don't need to either agree nor disagree with that, to be honest. It's simply not an issue at the heart of this discussion.

Broadening the topic to view how the rest of the world looks at this poem is not "rustling up a confected argument." It's trying to give room for other issues that are indeed at the heart of this discussion. If the opinion is that the words are simply those of an older military man looking back on his days in battle and recognizing valor in a man of another race or status, then there isn't much more to say. Move on and let the rest of the conversation happen.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 04:12 AM

It's funny that the first 50 posts of this thread, the last of those being over 7 years ago, were very good hearted and represented differing viewpoints without rancour. Then, on 01 Feb 24, after being resurrected for only a couple of hours, it turned into a nasty exchange about things outside the scope of the poem. Since then 'broadening the topic' has resulted in heated arguments, deletions of some posts and the relegation of the topic to below the line BS.

What has happened in the intervening 7+ years? The poem has not changed. Mudcat has not changed. Read through it and decide for yourselves. It doesn't take long.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 08:13 AM

Kipling may no longer be a household name, but here in the UK it is still widely recognised. Apart from "If.." I doubt many people read his poems nowadays (how many read poetry anyway?) but many of his lines are well-known and have entered the language, albeit out of context and often misunderstood. Academia and the teaching profession, both inclined to be left-leaning (as is the New Yorker), may regard him as "toxic" but I doubt this view is universal.

There is no question that he was a racist by modern standards, and possibly even by those of his own time. "White Man's Burden" shows a patronising view of the uncivilised races who need to be rescued, and his view of imperialism as a moral duty carried out for moral reasons is simply naive. He detested the Germans and distrusted Jews (and wasn't keen on Americans). But he was a racist whose works also show admiration and respect for people of other races, especially Indians. So it's complicated. I prefer to judge each of his works on its own merits.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 10:37 AM

What has changed is who is reading it, obviously, and there are, as Howard points out, various schools of thought to be considered. Acknowledging the formalist approach - when school children were taught to consider the words above context - versus the postmodern approach that brings in outside influences, is not particularly revolutionary. Peoples' approaches to literature have changed many times in the era that books have been in print.

Pushing back against this poem comes in a time when the world is at a tipping point (again?) - when Donald Trump, an acknowledged racist, is hoping to be elected again in order to keep himself out of jail. His first act when elected (the first and one hopes only time) was to exclude Muslim travelers to the US. Quite often in the colonial days of the English still in India and before partition, there was evidence of those who favored Muslim over Hindu, or vice versa, in how they interacted with the population of India. Trump was one-upping them and doing it to the entire world. Who's to say what he will do next, but it doesn't bode well for just about anyone outside of the US who has brown skin. Taking each poem in isolation gives some of them legs in today's world; others of them should serve as a view into what Kipling was really thinking and a big * next to his name as a man of his times who is more problematic than others for modern readers. It's all still on the table and no one would ban it or Kipling.

It is also the reason this was moved to BS, to allow the scope to broaden to the modern discussion of the man and not just the one poem.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 11:03 AM

In one way you are right, Stilly. The tipping point became when the thread was opened out into politics. I am dissappointed that this happened because, if you look at the opening post, that was never the intention. OK, you may well say that it is inevitable but that is where we must disagree. Most, if not all, folk music (and bear in mind that this poem was set to music by one of folk's few right wingers) is also political but discusions about most folk songs remain above the line. Surely it is not rocket science to restrict what should be a discussion about one particular song or poem to that song or poem?

I hate wogs for instance remained open and above the line even though the potential for interpretation there is far more dangerous than Gunga Din.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 11:07 AM

That "Wogs" thread started and ran before there was a separation between music and BS threads on the page. The separation came because the fighting got so bad, and there are some threads still "above the line" because they are so old and not visited by members (or reopened by unrelated spam) that they have not been reassigned. It also started with a song, not a poem set to words. A distinction without a difference there, perhaps, but there you have it.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Tunesmith
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 11:29 AM

If we're not careful, all history will be banned as racist, sexist, and hundreds of more "ists" of anyone's choosing.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 11:59 AM

Gunga Din has not been banned as far as I know.

Are you the same Tunesmith as 'Guest:Tunesmith'?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 04:07 PM

ok, it is of its time , but that does not mean its always worth performing, perhaps the performer should size up of the audience first . obviously if you were performing it in front of the kipling society it would probably be well received.
personally i would not bother with it, nor do i bother with any of his poems set to music, i think they are backward looking, but i dont think other people should feel intimidated about performing them.
an experienced performer can often assess an audience, and if the performer gave a good rendition,, i would applaud the performance. whether indian people would take offence it is hard for me to say.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 09:43 PM

Tunesmith, I am of the opinion that 100 years from now historians and scholars will be looking for evidence of the historic individuals who were erased during the 2020s. It's one thing to take down statues erected by the Civil War activists to lord it over the subjugated ex-slave population (after the Civil War there was a lot of gotcha stuff going on by the southern groups who lost the war) - those historical figures are still well-known. It's another to remove individuals who were of their time and did things in their fields that (for now) don't meet the 2024 standards of political correctness.

It is never a good idea to erase individuals; Kipling was important in his day and beyond. (Campuses across the US are purging former administrators and namesakes - students are often leading these moves but they lack the perspective of age to understand that knowing who those people were, warts and all, is important.) But he does provide a teachable moment. His work was important enough to be considered in various venues.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: MaJoC the Filk
Date: 16 Feb 24 - 10:24 AM

*Agree*, Stilly. "The only lesson learnt from history is that nobody learns from history."* That's why history goes in circles (or at least rhymes): "Don't bother with Granddad's warnings --- everything's different this time."

By all means put up a notice warning that this poem, or that TV programme (eg Up Pompeii! or Upstairs Downstairs), reflects the attitudes its time, but don't ban it. Cancellation means nobody gets the chance to learn, even if they want to.

* Attribution humbly requested.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 16 Feb 24 - 04:06 PM

Kipling is still a houehold name, no?


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Feb 24 - 04:53 PM

Depends on the household.

I've met many Americans who've never heard of him - one just the other day. (The movie of "The Man Who Would Be King" was nearly fifty years ago.)

Presumably it's different in Britain and elsewhere, but only presumably.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Feb 24 - 05:03 PM

Apparently he made exceedingly good cakes.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Donuel
Date: 17 Feb 24 - 08:07 AM

Race and racism has had a six-hundred-year run. It is as artificial as an invention based on a lie. What will remain is the desire for slavery by those who are willing to exploit life with evil intent.
The 20th century had the largest resurgence of slavery with Hitler.

As for Kipling, there is no need to let cancel culture run wild. Just because Isaac Newton wasn't exactly correct doesn't mean he should be erased. We are all fish that swim in the pure or polluted water of our time.
There are very few people who are ahead of their time.


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Feb 24 - 04:50 PM

I think Kipling is read less ,because he was of his time, one day this propagandist of colonialism possibly will be forgotten, there is no need to erase him, being of his time, could mean his work will become dated. Is he important,


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Feb 24 - 04:55 PM

His Just so stories are well written and possibly not as dated, and probably will be read longer as some of his other works


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: robomatic
Date: 17 Feb 24 - 05:46 PM

I personally think that what passes for literature should be preserved in situ. I think at base it's a way of preserving the First Amendment in time if nothing else.
I recall reading a lot of Kipling with pleasure.

I think the ability to understand those of the past is always tenuous. Someone making this point on the radio said that there could be (had been) more back-and-forth/ disagreements of facts and times, over Elvis' last meal than over many issues one would think both cut-and-dried and significant.

Homer Simpson: "Stuff that happened"


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Subject: RE: Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 17 Feb 24 - 06:00 PM

Racism is a LOT older than 600 years.


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