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Gunga Din. Racist or just of its time?

DigiTrad:
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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Mrrzy 17 Feb 24 - 06:00 PM
robomatic 17 Feb 24 - 05:46 PM
The Sandman 17 Feb 24 - 04:55 PM
The Sandman 17 Feb 24 - 04:50 PM
Donuel 17 Feb 24 - 08:07 AM
The Sandman 16 Feb 24 - 05:03 PM
Lighter 16 Feb 24 - 04:53 PM
Mrrzy 16 Feb 24 - 04:06 PM
MaJoC the Filk 16 Feb 24 - 10:24 AM
Stilly River Sage 15 Feb 24 - 09:43 PM
The Sandman 15 Feb 24 - 04:07 PM
Dave the Gnome 11 Feb 24 - 11:59 AM
Tunesmith 11 Feb 24 - 11:29 AM
Stilly River Sage 11 Feb 24 - 11:07 AM
Dave the Gnome 11 Feb 24 - 11:03 AM
Stilly River Sage 11 Feb 24 - 10:37 AM
Howard Jones 11 Feb 24 - 08:13 AM
Dave the Gnome 11 Feb 24 - 04:12 AM
Stilly River Sage 10 Feb 24 - 10:48 AM
Dave the Gnome 10 Feb 24 - 05:13 AM
Stilly River Sage 09 Feb 24 - 06:00 PM
GUEST 09 Feb 24 - 05:39 PM
Dave the Gnome 09 Feb 24 - 12:38 PM
Stilly River Sage 09 Feb 24 - 12:37 PM
GUEST 09 Feb 24 - 11:42 AM
Stilly River Sage 09 Feb 24 - 11:10 AM
GUEST 09 Feb 24 - 05:33 AM
Howard Jones 09 Feb 24 - 04:58 AM
Dave the Gnome 09 Feb 24 - 04:10 AM
The Sandman 09 Feb 24 - 03:36 AM
The Sandman 09 Feb 24 - 03:07 AM
Stilly River Sage 09 Feb 24 - 01:03 AM
GUEST 08 Feb 24 - 08:45 PM
Stilly River Sage 08 Feb 24 - 07:56 PM
Howard Jones 08 Feb 24 - 07:38 PM
Stilly River Sage 08 Feb 24 - 11:31 AM
Dave the Gnome 08 Feb 24 - 11:00 AM
The Sandman 08 Feb 24 - 05:22 AM
Dave the Gnome 07 Feb 24 - 05:58 PM
The Sandman 05 Feb 24 - 02:54 PM
Stilly River Sage 05 Feb 24 - 02:09 PM
Richard Mellish 05 Feb 24 - 11:49 AM
Howard Jones 05 Feb 24 - 09:51 AM
Howard Jones 05 Feb 24 - 08:39 AM
Backwoodsman 05 Feb 24 - 06:46 AM
Backwoodsman 05 Feb 24 - 06:44 AM
Dave the Gnome 05 Feb 24 - 05:08 AM
Stilly River Sage 04 Feb 24 - 11:05 PM
Mrrzy 04 Feb 24 - 04:00 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 04 Feb 24 - 02:44 PM
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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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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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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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