Lurgan—often called Lurgan Sahib as a term of respect by the other characters in the book—is basically the Yoda of Kim. He lives in the summer capital city of Simla, in a strange house piled with devil masks and suits of armor and other things that make Kim think of the Wonder House back in Lahore. It is pretty unclear what his job is; he just seems to be a general spymaster and trainer for Secret Service agents.
Lurgan's training methods look a lot like games and pranks to us. Probably Lurgan's most significant contribution to Kim's education is the Jewel Game, a.k.a. the "Play of the Jewels." In this game, Lurgan throws some stones (or, as Kim gets more advanced, other kinds of objects) onto a tray for Kim to look at for as long as he wants.
Once Kim thinks he can remember every detail about the objects—what they look like, how many they are, what flaws they might have—Lurgan covers the tray up again. Kim then has to describe everything he has seen in detail. As we mentioned in our "Detailed Summary" of Chapter Nine, this game basically sounds like a slightly more complicated version of Memory.
But apparently, to Lurgan, the Jewel Game is the height of spy necessity. Lurgan continues to train Kim to remember the layout and appearance of things and to use those skills to assess the people who come in and out of Lurgan's house during Kim's visits to Simla. (For more on this game and its real-life influences, check out our discussion of youth in the "Quotes and Thoughts" section.)
To pull back from Kim for a few seconds, we wanted to mention that Kipling actually wrote a lot of famous stories about school, and they are all pretty heavy on physical punishment. He published a popular set of short stories called Stalky & Co., which are about the (frankly, pretty cruel) pranks pulled on fellow school kids and teachers by a gang of boarding school students led by this guy named Stalky. These kids are often getting thrashed as punishment for their wrongdoings.
Even The Jungle Book, which we loved reading when we were little, features poor Mowgli, the original boy raised by wolves, getting occasionally beaten by the bear Baloo to teach him his lessons. As Baloo says, "Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly" (from the story "Kaa's Hunting," Paragraph 2).
We bring up Kipling's consistent link between learning and pain because it carries over to Kim's experiences with Lurgan in this novel also. When Kim first arrives at Lurgan's house, Lurgan makes Kim sleep in a room full of frightening masks and weapons and such to see if he will get scared. And then, Lurgan leaves a broken wax cylinder player (which is like a very early version of a record player, which in turn is like a very early version of an MP3 player…) making murmuring and muttering noises to disturb Kim's sleep.
Lurgan wants to test Kim to see how he'll react to these night-time annoyances. Lurgan appears impressed when Kim doesn't get scared by the wax cylinder but instead just stuffs his jacket into the machine to make it shut up.
While it's true that Lurgan does not beat Kim the way that the teachers at Kim's miserable regimental school do—so teaching isn't as cruel in Kim as it is in Stalky & Co. or even The Jungle Book—Lurgan does try to mess with Kim's head. He wants to see how badly he can freak out the kid, which sometimes seems to cross lines.
And it's not just Kim who Lurgan messes with—as Lurgan's favorite student, Kim gets off lightly, and it's really the little Hindu boy who lives with Lurgan who gets the worst of his manipulations. We don't find out much about this boy except that Lurgan apparently took him in when the child lost both his mother and his father. But we do know that the little Hindu boy is hugely attached to Lurgan—he wants Lurgan's attention and approval all the time.
But Lurgan plays on this kid's loyalty in hurtful ways. That first night that Kim spends in Lurgan's house, Lurgan orders the Hindu boy not to speak to Kim, even when Kim addresses him directly. Kim flies off into a rage and starts to hit the Hindu boy. (At this point, Kim seems to have decided to be as much of a Sahib as possible, which, for him, includes physical violence.) The Hindu boy just sits there crying in the darkness, because he doesn't want to disobey the orders of Lurgan.
The Hindu boy tries to poison both Lurgan and Kim the following morning, out of rage. And he gets his own back against Kim when Lurgan allows the Hindu boy to teach Kim the Jewel Game, which the Hindu boy is really good at. But even so, Lurgan's willingness to manipulate his students emotionally, and to pit them against each other for his approval, seems to show once again that Kipling has a pretty cruel and sadistic view of what it takes to get kids to learn.
As we point out in our section on "Character Roles," it really seems like, out of all of the characters that Kim meets over the course of the novel, Lurgan is the person who Kim is most likely to resemble when he grows up. Kim admires Lurgan's easy use of Hindi and his superior knowledge of pretty much everything to do with India—he's even more familiar with the customs and manners of the peoples of India than Creighton, which is saying something. But Kim's respect for Lurgan does not go one way; Lurgan also takes a real shine to Kim.
What convinces Lurgan of Kim's raw potential as a recruit for the Secret Service is his response to Lurgan's hypnosis. Lurgan gives Kim a test, breaking a jar in front of Kim and then trying to hypnotize Kim into believing that the jar has grown whole again. But even though Kim can see a sort of shadow of the whole jar, he remains convinced of what he saw. Kim's basic belief in his own observations overcomes Lurgan's great powers of suggestion.
When Lurgan sees Kim's strength of mind, he realizes that Kim has something special. Later, when Creighton is trying to decide whether he should pull Kim from school and put him out on the road as an employee of the Ethnological Survey (at the ripe old age of seventeen), Lurgan weighs in:
You sent him to me to try. I tried him in every way: he is the only boy I could not make to see things […] Under my hand, as I told you. That has never happened before. It means that he is strong enough […] to make anyone do anything he wants. And that is three years ago. I have taught him a good deal since, Colonel Creighton. I think you waste him now. (10.31-3)
Lurgan tests Kim's resistance to trickery; Mahbub Ali tests his resourcefulness and ability to keep secrets; and the Babu tests Kim's courage. Kim passes all of these tests with flying colors. And between these three mentor figures, Kim's education shows us what Kipling believes a worker for the British Indian government really needs.
In a way, Kim's studies with Lurgan, Mahbub Ali, and the Babu becomes a model for the British boys reading Kim in 1901 to follow. Kipling seems to be using Kim's relationships with these characters to say to his young readers: be tough, creative, and skeptical of what other people tell you, and you'll be a great Secret Service agent. Kim is an excellent, entertaining novel, for sure—but it's also got contemporary politics underlying pretty much every aspect of its plot and characterization.