Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
World: South Asia
Kipling comes under review
Some think Kipling understood India better than many
By South Asia analyst Chandrika Deshpande
In his new biography of Rudyard Kipling, author Andrew Lycett argues that the stereotyped view of the writer gives way to a much more complex character.
Lycett says he set out to challenge his own view of Kipling as superior and reactionary.
He says he finds Kipling an almost sympathetic character in some ways, but acknowledges that a lot of the criticism made about the writer and his prejudices is fair.
"I think he was racist, in the terms of his time", says the author.
Farruk Dhondhy, a writer who has studied Kipling, believes Kipling actually understood India and Indians better than any writer of his generation.
"I think Kipling is a great writer, for me he is up there with Shakespeare and Dickens, probably not as great as those two, but certainly as prolific, profound, far reaching and a creature of his time," he says.
According to Dhondhy, to label Kipling a racist is "extremely simplistic nonsense."
In his book, Lycett also explores Kipling's political development, and suggests that at one time, the author actually displayed far more liberal tendencies than he is given credit for.
In India, says Lycett, whatever youthful idealism Kipling had, dissolved and Kipling the imperialist was born.
Kipling spent seven years working as a journalist based in the then Indian city of Lahore and later Allahabad.
During that time, he drew inspiration for some of his best-known work - The Jungle Book, Kim, and his collection of short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills.
Some experts such as Professor Tim Connell, a member of the Kipling Society, believes Kipling's vision of India comes from the fact that Kipling crossed the divide separating ruler from native subject in colonial India.
"The irony of course is that Kipling knew Indian society remarkably well, and indicates in fact that he has gone beyond the pale himself," he says.
Going beyond the pale
So did Kipling explore the underbelly of life in India?
According to Andrew Lycett, he did.
Lycett says it also clear that Kipling did have amorous dalliances.
"From various entries in his diaries, it seems that he did have sexual encounters and again in his symphathetic references to Indian women in Plain Tales from the Hills that comes through."
Controversy will remain
Of course Kipling's writings extend well beyond the comparatively short time he spent as a son of the Raj.
In later life, back in England, his writing became darker, some say the work of a bitter man who lost a young daughter and sacrificed his son to the First World War.
Kipling is best remembered for his prolific writing as a journalist, author and poet which ensure he will remain one of the most quoted writers of his generation, as well as one of the most controversial.