Sorting through my father’s hoard: Rudyard Kipling

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“Now, when they ask you what you like to read, don’t mention Kipling.” Dad’s words of wisdom when I was preparing for university interviews; probably not best, he agreed, to profess admiration for he who wrote of The White Man’s Burden and Gunga Din. I love Kipling, but I’ll be the first to admit he’s politically incorrect and hasn’t exactly aged well.

Still, it must have pained Dad to have to acknowledge that Kipling has his problems, and his detractors. Not for nothing did he have a shelf filled with the man’s work:

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Even though they’re not all bound in the same style, it’s very clear that this is a collection. Looking at these books reveals that most, if not all of them, used to belong to someone called J.A.C Turner; there are prices penciled in the front, meaning they were probably bought second hand. Were they given to Dad as a present? Possibly, although there’s nothing written in any of them to indicate that. Did he buy them himself, all in one go? Again, possibly; he probably wouldn’t have had the budget as a young medical student in the 50s, but he was well off enough in later life. I do know he was quite pleased with the edition he had of The Jungle Book, since it featured illustrations done by Kipling’s father, J. Lockwood Kipling:

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Dad was pretty much raised on Kipling. It would have been strange if he hadn’t been; his father, Morris, was born circa 1903 in the area of India that would become modern day Pakistan, was raised speaking both English and Hindustani, and entered the army as was customary for the Blake males. In addition, Dad and his parents went to live in India when he was about three and stayed there for four years, returning to England just as the Second World War was gearing up.

Kipling was rather inescapable at this point.

Kipling was one of the myriad of authors Dad liked to quote to us. A lot. Chances were, if a quote or extract wasn’t from Shakespeare, there’d be a fifty percent chance it was from Kipling, whether from his poems or his short stories or his novels. Dad and I liked to recite the last verse of Gunga Din to each other over meaningless activities like finishing breakfast or tidying up. He loved to read us the very short story  The Gardener. 

A major part of my early years was sitting on Dad’s lap – and later on the floor, when I got too big for said lap – as Dad read The Jungle Book to us. I can remember jumping in shock and delight as he made the hissing noise of Rikki Tikki Tavi – “Rikk-tck-tck!” – and leaning against his knee as he sang us the Seal Lullaby from Kotick. 

Then, of course, there were the Just So Stories. My sister and I both received our own copies of the stories over the years

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although my copy was rather more fortunate when it came to pictures:

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My copy also contained two extra tales,  Ham and the Porcupine and The Tabu Tale. Of all the stories in the book, Dad and I most loved to read about the father and daughter, Tegumai and his daughter Taffy, who were very clearly meant to Rudyard Kipling and his eldest daughter Josephine, his ‘Best Beloved’ for whom the Just So Stories were written. I remember growing sad when I read, in the introduction to my book, that Josephine died when she was only six and that much of Kipling died with her.

And now…well.

It may be that ‘The Tabu Tale” was not gathered in with the others because, with its final reminder that ‘she was taken everywhere that her Daddy went,’ it was too heart-rendingly personal. Kipling’s haunting story “They” encapsulates his anguished sense of loss, as does the two-part poem, “Merrow Down,” which accompanies the Taffy stories:(1)

For far – oh very far behind,

So far she cannot call to him,

Comes Tegumai alone to find

The daughter that was all to him. 

(1)  Neil Philip, Introduction to The Complete Just So Stories, Albion Press Limited, 1993

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