In May 1888, travelling through the princely states of Rajputana as a reporter for the Allahabad Pioneer, Rudyard Kipling found himself unexpectedly bivouacked one night with three sepoys.1 As they settled down together around the campfire, the young Anglo-Indian journalist, anxiously knowledgeable, hastily established his credentials for his readers by fixing in place the ethnographic framework of the scene.2 It is a brief, lightly sketched reference, but it determines the very possibility of the guarded conviviality that follows. ‘They were all Mahomedans’, he wrote simply and without fear of controversy:

and consequently all were easy to deal with. A Hindu is an excellent person, but … but … there is no knowing what is in his heart, and he is hedged about with so many strange observances. […] But a man who will eat with you and take your tobacco, sinking the fiction that it has been doctored with shrab [liquor], cannot be very bad after all.3


Indian Society Princely State Comic Tale Simple Axiom Excellent Person 
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  1. 1.
    Some of the details of this tour can be found in Harry Ricketts, The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling (London: Pimlico, repr. 2000; 1999), chapter 7.Google Scholar
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© Alex Padamsee 2005

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