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'Kim' is a fine artistic creation written by Rudyard Kipling. It has a strong impact on the reader's mind that gives a strong sense of spirit for adventurous journey, whereby the two main characters are on the way for searching their respective goals. Kim wants to find his fortune where as Tahsoo Lama wants to discover a certain river of arrow. All the characters in the novel, are part of "Great Game". For Mahbub Ali, Hari Babu, Creighton Sahib it means 'a spy game', a political one i.e. a part of British imperial system. For Tashoo Lama it is a "wheel of life", "wheel of things" in its spiritual and philosophical meanings. For Kim it is a fulfillment of his personal curious desire and nature.
Throughout the novel Kim faces a problem of his identity. The problem arises due to his identification with different identities, cultures and ideologies. We are informed that he is a white born orphan who wears some 'charmings' in his neck which are his only heritage to prove him British. His indigenious characteristics place him with Indians. He is brought up in Lahore by a poor half-caste Hindu woman. Our point of study here is to see "to what extent he is an Indian?"
Kipling is determined him to be a white, a British. In the very first page of the novel he says :
"Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference and his mother tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song, though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazaar; Kim was white - a poor white of the very poorest."[Chap.-1]
Thus in this way he has denounced absolutely all the cultural and social elements which make a man and give him identity.
To prove him British, is to isolate him. The birth and the parents do not create the identity only. It is designed by society and culture, and his interactions in it.
Most necessarily Kipling introduces Kim with Indianness, Indian objects, Indian ideas, and thinking. He is grown up in the society of Lahore city. He lives the wild life of Arabian Nights and he is able to see the beauty of it. He discards English style of remaining alienated from commonness. It is his nativity which separates him from his ancestors.
Kim's society includes Abdullah, Mahbub Ali, the Muslims; Chote Lal, the Hindu; the fakirs; the small boy of bazaar; the native policeman; water carrier; Jawahir Singh the carpenter. He is not different from all these members of Lahore city society. He is looked after by a half-caste Hindu woman who wished that he should wear the European garments but -
"Kim found it easier to slip into Hindu or Mohammedan garb"[Chap.-1]
In company of his native friends he is at ease. He knows their language and all castes. It is his society in which he grows up learning the very native knowledge of it. Often natives are defined with their characteristics like simplicity, down to earth, knowledge which comes out of every day practical life, curiosity, excitement, innocence. Kim has all these qualities. He is very curious to know about the new things. He behaves in native manner and the wisdom he shows is more Indian. He quotes the proverbs which maintains deep understanding, knowledge and life long experience.
If we consider Kim a monolithic character he is less Indian than British. But he is not a 'universal white man' because he hates missionaries, he prefers vernacular and he is always able to attain sympathy from others. He hates going school where the classrooms are gloomy for him. He lives his life among street boys begging for food, which he can surely attain accepting the white society. He wants to live a free life as do the Indians, so he remains away from missionaries or any white person who can take possession over him, in order not to indulge in unadventurous life of routine and seriousness.
He is born white Christian and he is well conscious of it but it bothers him to enter again in white society. He entertains his life with Indians without any limitation. He is happy in living with them and treats them equal to him though his nature is to take over anybody is only due to his "highly experienced" and "open-minded out spoken personality". Contrary to it,the Britishers know nothing of India.
He has adventures there and every secret activity attracts him. So he is shown always interested in moving in streets in 'dark', climbing high on the roof of houses to explore somewhat of his interest.
The' darkness' and his colour 'black' both are associated with the Indians by the Britishers in context of India.He knows Indian sensibility because he has lived with them.His alliance with Mahbub Ali started only with his need of food and his curious nature leads him to new experiences. He has nothing to do with Britishers and with their 'game'.
He is appears as a secular personality. He says to Mahbub Ali that he is neither Muslim nor he is Hindu even he does not say that he is chrisitan. He may criticize a Lama or a Hindu but he never claims his views about religion. When he is introduced to Catholicism he sees it a new set of 'Gods and Godlings' [Chap.-7].Even the idea of being a Sahib or a 'White' vexes him.He says to Lama-'Thou hast said there is neither black nor white.Why plague me with this talk?'[Chap.-15].
He is alien to a British and has framed himself in Indian style. Indianness has ripen in him and if we want too see Britishness in him we can see only reflections of it. He gives the characters but more the readers to feel at home in their native environment.
His wisdom is common with the priests in village who take possession of the minds of all villagers. He is confined to India. If he would have another identity or from another place this could not have happened. There would be some connections from outside. He is responding to both Indians as well as English in a way which may suit them but he takes no responsibility of it. Typically he belongs to the class of people in India who had firm faith in appropriateness of British rule over India, whose ideas are inspired by west but actions limited to their own cultural environment
The relationship between Lama and Kim is also a typical Indian relation between Guru and Shishya.He is a 'chela', not a 'disciple' of Lama. Kim insists on his being chela. He says to Lama - "I am your chela. Am I not?Am I not your chela?" Kipling's use of words contextualize him in certain periphery.
The symbolicism also suggests the Indianness in Kim. "How can a man follow 'the way' or the 'great game' when he is so always pestered by women?", he says. The 'way' or the 'great game' symbolize the sacred path to reach the ultimate truth. The words cannot be taken only for spy game. Kipling says that - "Kim thought in the vernacular on this occasion'.And this is possible only by his relation with Lama and his Indian roots, which made him able to think spiritually. He loves the country. Mahbub asks him - "And who are thy people 'friend of all the world?' Kim replies - 'This great and beautiful land'."
The orality of characters and speeches connects the story, the character and even the author to the land upon which it does perform itself. The proverbs must come out from that specific place to which the user belong and its user must have also the wide sense and understanding for using it. It is not a days work and he who knows it and uses is more of that place than other. Kim uses the proverbs and language splendidly.
The significant thing is that the proverbs, have their particular tone and sense that they are not found in another languages. They are more Indian than any other things in the novel can be. The colloquial speeches also gives it an Indian colour.
Orality and meaning of dialogue both are performative and context bound, and moves away from European styles and influences. These are situated outside the European or English perfiery. It has its own Indian social space.
Language which is given to Kim by Kipling is Indian in meaning and context. The language of English priests, Lurgan Sahib and Creighton sahib is different from that of Kim. Kim's language is hybridization of English, Hindi and Urdu. There we can clearly see the dominance of pure English over the English mixed with vernacular hence two different levels are created and Kim is attributed lower one i.e. more identified with Indians, specially at that time.
The language teaches about one's status and identity. English priests sends him for learning English means that so far he is not an English. He has learned and accepted Indian culture and values. His acception of guru-chela relationship with Lama and his treatment of a sick boy at Banaras are the best example of it.
He thinks in Hindi (Hindustani), 'in the tongue he knows best' as the writer says[Chap.6]. It means that primarily he is Hindustani than it does not matter what other language he speaks.His use of Urdu and Hindi language maintains Indianness in him.
He is a local legend. If Kim can use aurhoritative language then it does not mean that he is Britisher because it can be practiced by any other Indian also. Being a part of Great Game also does not identify him with Creighton or Lurgam Sahib. If it is the case then what you will say about Hari Babu who is a part of Great Game and speaks English Kim has split consciousness of being both an Indian and a British. His frequent desire for companionship of Lama and the road, his disinterestedness in being a Sahib, and going to school are the strong example of his re-assertion of native cultural identity.
His identity can be constructed only in according to his socio-political economic binaries under in which he lived. Kim's blackness is first point which separates him from Britishers. Socially he is a part of Indian world.
Kim in his early childhood is given to a full grown manliness. Perhaps it will not be wrong to say that he seems to be character of author's imagination, not from the real world. But, what the reality is, that he is offspring of Indian soil. He is moulded in Indian form. He is formed by Indian society and culture not by English. He inherited his body from white parents but it is laid upon circumstances what will happen to his body in future.
He enjoys his position well in his society but he is also a person who looks for future. His father had prophesized for his future and he sets himself to go for the search of his future. He is a native hero who is on his mission for making a better life. So he, joins the Madrissah though it is not of his test. There he will be a Sahib but to be a Sahib is not his dream. He thinks that after his schooling he will be more able to play his adventures. Being left by Hari at Rani Sahiba's house he feels that he is out of game, the game of adventure. He can't bear it and leaves the house.
He knows his birth and in playing games he uses this 'white racial birth' in a political use. It is only a impression on native Indians but he presents himself in his native garbs so to not differentiate with them.
His continuous search to find an answer of 'who is Kim'? at last results in humanistic approach that he is only a Kim not a Sahib or a English imperialist one. He is self-centered Indian in his pursuit of joy and adventurous life.
Creighton, Burton and Bennett are the part of White world. They cannot part themselves from it. Only after confirmation of Kim's white origin they are ready to adopt him. The evidences of this white origin are only his father's clearance certificate and a note.If Kim had not these proofs he had to remain only an ordinary Indian. Then his colour black, vernacular tongue, his habits, his outward presentation would construct his identity.
Thus, language and culture supersedes over race and ethnicity. From Lama he learns myths of Buddha and makes it own objective to search for river.
-"Oah it was made by our lord Buddha â€¦. I am his disciple and we must find that riverâ€¦ it is so veree valuable to us."[Chap-5]
His joys are 'the broad land and fields he felt,were 'a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery.'But I shall argue that he is not an absolute Indian.He knows his British origin but frequently he neglects to be a British.He is conscious of his 'high' birth and goes with Lama only for his own search for red bull. He shows his European egoism, tries to take over everybody. To his native friends, also to Britishers he is a White and superior to all other Indians. Kim hates them Bennett thinks that 'once a Sahib is always a Sahib'; but he avoids Sahibs and Madrissah'. To him, for a moment, he may be Sahib but no longer he wants to remain a Sahib. He has 'crossed' all the whites who want war, rule etc. and thinks them fools and wants to see new things.
Lama says - "But no white man knows the land and the customs of the land as thou knowest."
Writer seems to make him an Indian without loosing any Whiteness / Britishness in him. 'There is a White boy by the barracks waiting under a tree who is not a White boyâ€¦. He is not like other boys'[Chap-6].
It is the Madrissah where his one identity replaces another. By teaching and learning identities are created. It is Madrissah where a second type of learning starts. Kim says - "In Madrissah I will learn. In Madrissah I will be a Sahib."
In Madrissah "for the rest of the day Kim found himself an object of distinguished consideration among a few hundred white men."[Chap-6] Madrissaha becomes the distinguishing point. Mahbub and Creighton Sahib fears that being long in madrissah he can loose his original personality. It is madrissah where the process of making him a Sahib starts.
After his discovery of red bull and confrontation with officers he still, is not ready to accept himself a Sahib. He writes to Mahbub Ali -
"By means of charm about my neck. It was established that I was the son of some Sahib in regiment."[Chap-6]
"A priest gave me a new name and clothed meâ€¦"
"Later he says to himself - â€¦ and I am a Sahib. No I am Kim. This is great world and I am only Kim. Who is Kim?"[Chap-6]
Here Kim seems to establish his identity beyond the Sahib/White world. He knows the world is great. He asserts himself 'Kim' of any place. He is the man of all the world who does not create distances and differences.
After all he can not be said as a whole (full) â€¦.Indian nor he can be a English because his parents were Irish and author gives stress upon his Irishness when he says 'his mother has been Irish too'.
He is a great synthesis of the East and the West. British and India.He comes out from madrissah in form of British agent. He can no longer remain an Indian. He becomes a hybrid of heterogenigenious elements, Indian and English, high and low. The hybridity and heterogentiy glitters but further it can produce nothing. Kim also leaves us in state of puzzlement. He does not give any idea to whither he moves. He himself can not solve himself that who is Kim?
He leaves Rani Sahiba's house in meditation. The words struck to his ear - "I am Kim. I am Kim. But what is Kim?" He can't find answer.
Kipling also tries for a solution but he fails with his words - "Roads were meant to be walked upon, houses to be lived in, cattles to be driven fields to be tilled and men and women to be talked."[Chap-15]