Kimball O'Hara, Kim for short, lives in the city of Lahore in the province of the Punjab.
(Lahore is now in Pakistan, but when Rudyard Kipling was writing, it was part of India.)
Even though Kim feels totally comfortable running around the city talking to the city kids in Urdu, he is white.
(The book emphasizes Kim's race a lot; for more on why, check out our thoughts on race in the "Themes" section.)
His mother was a nursemaid and his father a low-ranking officer in an Irish regiment stationed in India, who also was an opium addict (which may explain why he didn't live long enough to see Kim grow up).
During Kim Senior's drugged visions, he would sometimes talk about "nine hundred first-class devils, whose God was a Red Bull on a green field" (1.2).
The woman who takes care of Kim doesn't understand what the father is talking about, but she tells Kim that his father left him a prophecy: One day a Red Bull will arrive with a colonel on horseback (and then the nine hundred devils).
This woman tries to dress Kim up in European clothes, but he prefers to blend in with the other kids.
He also likes to explore the city and to carry secret messages for the local guys in the middle of the night.
Enter The Lama
One day, when Kim is playing with two other kids in front of the Wonder-House (the local name for the Lahore Museum (1.20)), he spots a guy who looks like no one he has ever seen before.
The new guy tells the kids that he is a Buddhist lama from Tibet, and that he is on a pilgrimage.
Kim leads the lama to meet the English curator (side note: a curator is like a combination of a manager and an organizer of objects at a museum) for the Wonder-House.
During his travels though, he has seen evidence of a lot of fake statues and false worship of the Buddha, so now the lama has started on a second quest.
He tells the curator that once, as part of a trial of strength, the Buddha shot an arrow into the air.
Where this arrow landed a river sprang up, and the lama believes that, if he can find this river, he will free himself of the pointless cycle of rebirth that is human life (according to Buddhist teaching as told by Rudyard Kipling, at least).
To help the lama on his search, the curator trades glasses with the man—they both have the same prescription (mostly), but the curator's lenses are much clearer and cleaner.
The lama is thrilled.
Kim And The Lama, Together At Last
Outside the museum, the lama settles down to beg for food.
Kim is much more familiar with the ways of Lahore, so he volunteers to get food for the lama, and hits up a local vegetable-seller for food.
She has been having trouble with a bull who keeps eating stuff from her vegetable stall.
Kim promises that the lama will pray to keep the bull away from her stall if she'll just help them out with a bit of food.
Kim and the lama eat together happily, and we see the beginning of a great bromance.
Kim volunteers to become the lama's chela—his disciple—and he will help the lama on the road south.
As they heads south, Kim plans to keep an eye out for that Red Bull his dad was talking about.
Kim takes the lama to his friend Mahbub Ali, as they try to find a place to crash for the night.
Mahbub Ali has an errand for Kim: If he's going south, he will have to pass through the city of Umballa, and at Umballa, Mahbub Ali wants Kim to deliver this message to a specific officer in the army: "The pedigree of the white stallion is fully established" (1.179).
(Pedigree means the family tree of a purebred animal, like a racehorse or a show dog.)
(This message definitely sounds like some kind of special code to us.)
And indeed, Mahbub Ali's message is actually about five local kings and a gun-running scheme—in other words, it's about important government stuff.
Mahbub Ali realizes that a random boy traveling with an elderly lama won't attract the attention of robbers or spies, and seizes the opportunity.
It's lucky for Mahbub Ali that he passes on this message to Kim when he does, because that night he gets stinking drunk and passes out in the arms of a prostitute.
She and two other guys working for the Five Kings search him and his property, hoping to find this message.
They don't find what they are looking for, but Kim spots them searching the unconscious Mahbub Ali.
Kim makes the lama leave Lahore early so that they can avoid the people searching for Mahbub Ali's message.