India and Pakistan have long granted Rudyard Kipling, the Bard of Empire, a surprising pedestal

Patrick Hennessey in The Telegraph:

KipYou wouldn’t think that Rudyard Kipling would be particularly esteemed in modern India. Now notorious, rather than celebrated, as the “Bard of Empire,” you might imagine that, if Kipling were remembered in India at all, it would be with understandable awkwardness at best and, at worst, disdain. Memories are long in the Punjab, and few have forgiven Kipling for his public support of General Dyer, the Butcher of Amritsar. Yet as I followed in the young writer’s footsteps through modern Pakistan and India to make the documentary Kipling’s Indian Adventure, from Lahore across the hot Punjabi plain and up into the fresh foothills of the Himalayas to the Raj’s summer capital of Shimla, I discovered not only that Kipling was well known, but that many of his works are well regarded and even taught in schools — more so, I dare say, than in Britain. And no matter where I went or to whom I spoke, one particular set of stories was loved above all others: the Jungle Books. Of course, their modern reach owes a lot to the 1967 Disney animation, the very last production overseen by Walt Disney himself. On the Mall in Shimla, in the shadow of the arch-Gothic Gaiety Theatre — surely the symbolic apotheosis of the Raj — I discussed Kipling’s legacy in India with a group of young students. As soon as the Jungle Books were mentioned, someone started humming The Bare Necessities.

It was probably for the best that Kipling did not live to see the liberties Disney took with his work. But despite straying far from the original texts, the film gleefully and stubbornly kept one of Kipling’s finest creations in the hearts of successive generations — for that alone it should be applauded. No matter what one thinks of Kipling’s politics, The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) represent one of the great pieces of imaginative writing in English, allegorical tales as timeless as Aesop’s fables and flights of masterfully realized fancy on a par with Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908).

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