BOOK REVIEW: POEM: ‘GUNGA DIN’ by Joseph Rudyard Kipling


Khidki (Window)

–Read Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

   Joseph Rudyard Kipling, lifespan, (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936, 71 years) was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and a novelist. Since, Kipling was born in India, much of his work has reflections of India.

Kipling’s works of fiction include The Jungle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). His poems include “Mandalay” (1890), “Gung Din” (1890), “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919), “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), and “If—” (1910). He is seen as an innovator in the art of the short story. His children’s books are classics.

    Kipling in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was among the United Kingdom’s most popular writers. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was the first, English-language writer, to receive the prize, and at 41, its youngest recipient till date. He was also sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and several times for knighthood, but declined both. Following his death in 1936, his ashes were interred at the Poets’ Corner, part of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey.

    “Gunga Din” is an 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling set in British India. The poem is mostly remembered for its final line: “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din”.

    The poem is a rhyming narrative from the point of view of a British soldier in India. Its titular character, is an Indian water-carrier, (a bhishti) who, after the narrator is wounded in a battle, saves his life, only to be shot and killed. In the final three lines, the soldier regrets the abuse that he perpetrated on Gunga Din and admits that Gunga Din is the better man. The poem was published, as part of a set of martial poems, called the Barrack-Room Ballads. In contrast to Kipling’s later poem, “The White Man’s Burden”, “Gunga Din” is named after an Indian and portrays him as a heroic character who is not afraid to face danger on the battlefield as he attends to wounded men. The white soldiers who order Gunga Din around and beat him for not bringing them water fast enough are presented as being callous and shallow and ultimately inferior to him.

    Although “Din” is frequently pronounced to rhyme with “pin”, the rhymes within the poem make it clear that it should be pronounced, to rhyme with “green”.

    T.S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection. A Choice of Kipling’s Verse. The poem inspired a 1939 adventure film of the same name.  The theme of Gunga Din was subsequently adapted into several other movies. And now the poem “Gunga Din”:

You may talk o’ gin and beer 

When you’re quartered safe out ’air ere,   

An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;

But when it comes to slaughter   

You will do your work on water,

An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of’ I’m that’s got it.   

Now in Injia’s sunny clime,   

Where I used to spend my time   

A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,   

Of all them blackfaced crew   

The finest man I knew

Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,   

      He was ‘Din! Din! Din!

   ‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!

      ‘Hi! Slippy hitherao (means idhar aoo)

      ‘Water, get it! Panee lao,

   ‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’

The uniform ’e wore

Was nothin’ much before,

An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,

For a piece o’ twisty rag   

An’ a goatskin water-bag

Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.

When the sweatin’ troop-train lay

In a sidin’ through the day,

Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,

We shouted ‘Harry By!’

Till our throats were bricky-dry,

Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.

      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!

   ‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?   

      ‘You put some juldee in it

      ‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute

   ‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

’E would dot an’ carry one

Till the longest day was done;

An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.

If we charged or broke or cut,

You could bet your bloomin’ nut,

’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.   

With ’is mussick on ’is back,

’E would skip with our attack,

An’ watch us till the bugles made ‘Retire,’   

An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide

’E was white, clear white, inside

When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!   

      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’

   With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.   

      When the cartridges ran out,

      You could hear the front-ranks shout,   

   ‘Hi! ammunition-mules an’ Gunga Din!’

I shan’t forgit the night

When I dropped be’ind the fight

With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.   

I was chokin’ mad with thirst,

An’ the man that spied me first

Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.   

’E lifted up my ’ead,

An’ he plugged me where I bled,

An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.

It was crawlin’ and it stunk,

But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,

I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!

   ‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;   

   ‘’E’s chawin’ up the ground,

      ‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:

   ‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’

’E carried me away

To where a dooli lay,

An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.   

’E put me safe inside,

An’ just before ’e died,

‘I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din.   

So I’ll meet ’im later on

At the place where ’e is gone—

Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.   

’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals

Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,

An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!   

      Yes, Din! Din! Din!

   You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!   

   Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,   

      By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

   You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

A beautiful poem that tributes an Indian bhishti by a British soldier.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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