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Finding Inspiration In Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Kim’, by Timeri Murari

When writing my novel The Imperial Agent, I wanted to explore the end of an empire on which the sun never set. When you watch a sun setting, it’s amazing how quickly the sun vanishes below the horizon. Having chosen my theme of empire and diaspora, I now needed to find a character who could fit my need. It would be a man, as those were the days in India when men ruled empires. Who could reflect both empire and diaspora?  Who could I create who would have to choose an identity? Who would he identify with?

By chance, while brooding about this problem of finding my character, I happened to visit Rio de Janeiro on a travel writing assignment. Brazil is very far from India and I wasn’t too surprised than not many people I met knew much about my country. Then, at a dinner party, I was seated next to a young woman who told me the only book she had read on India was Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim. It was a fortuitous jog to my memory. I had read Kim too many years ago as a child and had forgotten all about it. I had found my character through a chance encounter with a stranger and when I thanked her profusely for reminding me of Kim I think she was quite baffled.

Kim was perfect. He’s an Irish orphan, not an English one, who is raised on the streets of Lahore. He is what we call a ‘chokra’, in that he has no family but his home is the streets and the Indian people around him. He is a boy who behaves more Indian than many Indians. To make it even more interesting, Kim is a spy for the British, an Imperial Agent, who can pick up the street gossip and move unnoticed through the lanes of cities and travel the Grand Trunk road.

He is both a foreigner and an Indian, yet his loyalty is to his British controller, the enigmatic Colonel. His was a reverse Diaspora. Where does he belong? Who does he belong with when India begins to rebel against British rule? He doesn’t end up alone, as this is also the time of a Gandhi rising out of anonymity, Jawaharlal Nehru (who later became Prime Minister of India), Lord Curzon and subsequent viceroys, and many other historical figures. There are also fictional men and women who reflect the changing times in India through their thoughts and actions. Kim is woven into their lives.


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