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Quotes

Quote #1

'Off! Off! Let me up!' cried Abdullah, climbing up Zam-Zammah's wheel.

'Thy father was a pastry-cook, Thy mother stole the ghi,' sang Kim. 'All Mussalmans fell off Zam-Zammah long ago!'

'Let me up!' shrilled little Chota Lal in his gilt-embroidered cap. His father was worth perhaps half a million sterling, but India is the only democratic land in the world. (1.7-9)

As we discuss in our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section, the fact that Kim is sitting on top of this historic cannon symbolizes British domination over India in Kipling's time. When Kim mocks Abdullah, he mentions that Abdullah is a "Mussalman," an old-fashioned, offensive term for Muslim. And Chota Lal is a wealthy Hindu boy.

This boyish competition between British Kim, Muslim Abdullah, and Hindu Chota Lal over who gets to sit on the cannon presents a miniature version of real-life ethnic and racial tensions dividing British India. By showing us this "democratic" squabble between three boys of totally different economic and social backgrounds, Kipling immediately introduces his vision of India as a place with lots of conflict that nonetheless brings together truly diverse groups of people onto a level playing field.

Quote #2

[The priest] knitted his brows, scratched, smoothed out, and scratched again in the dust mysterious signs—to the wonder of all save the lama, who, with fine instinct, forbore to interfere.

At the end of half an hour, he tossed the twig from him with a grunt.

'Hm! Thus say the stars. Within three days come the two men to make all things ready. After them follows the Bull; but the sign over against him is the sign of War and armed men.' (2.173-5)

In the village where Kim and the lama first meet the Old Man Who Fought in '57, a priest tells Kim his horoscope. And even though the priest's foretelling is really dramatic (half an hour of drawing on the ground with a stick? What could possibly take that long?), the priest turns out to be absolutely right—Kim does spot the two advance-scouts for the Irish Mavericks regiment within three days of meeting this guy. And the sign of the Bull — in other words, the regimental flag of his father's old company — has to be a sign of War, since it's an army banner.

Even though this whole sequence with the priest comes across as a far-fetched, exotic spectacle, Kipling still portrays the priest as correct in his predictions, and therefore, as someone to be respected, no matter how unlikely he may appear to the reader.

Quote #3

'Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters—all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.'

And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India's traffic for fifteen hundred miles—such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world. They looked at the green-arched, shade-flecked length of it, the white breadth speckled with slow-pacing folk; and the two-roomed police-station opposite. (3.177-8)

Scenes like these make us feel like Kipling is portraying British India as a specifically foreign country to the reader. By presenting India as "a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world," Kipling portrays India as anything but everyday. Instead, India comes across as this really amazing spectacle—admirable, but distant and unfamiliar.

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