“Kipling, the supposed expert writer on India, showed a better understanding of the mind of the animals in the jungle than of the men in an Indian home or the marketplace.”
-K R Narayan, Indian author
In 1861 a son was born in Calcutta to a rich and influential Bengali family. The son was called Rabindranath. Four years later, hundreds of miles away from Calcutta, a son was born to a British family in Bombay (Mumbai); the son was named after the place where his parents first met- Rudyard.
“Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait.”
Rudyard Kipling on Bombay
Rabindranath belonged to Tagore family, which was quite influential in Bengal, both on social and political front.
India then was colony of British. Indians were considered to be an inferior race.
There was one section in Britain who believed that Indians (natives) benefited from British rule and any idea of freedom from British rule would be a disaster. So it was duty of British to punish people who propagated ideas of freedom or independence.
In India, one section of Indians believed that Indian society should get rid of social evils first, before demanding independence. They believed in reform of Indian society. Tagore family belonged to this category.
Rudyard Kipling believed in racial supremacy of British. He believed in status quo i.e. British as rulers and Indians as subjects. This reflects in his poems “White man’s Burden” and “Gunga Din”
Gunga Din is a bhisti (water carrier) in British army. He is abused by soldiers, but like loyal Indian subject, he tolerates all abuses and serves army with loyalty, finally lays down his life for solider. This makes him an “ideal Indian” in eyes of Rudyard Kipling.
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the living Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
-Gunga Din, Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard believed in myth of white race, his views were not very different from those of Hitler who believed in superiority of Germans.
For him Gunga Din, though loyal to British is “black faced” and “squigy nosed”
“Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
He was “Din! Din! Din!
You limping lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippery hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squigy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.”
-Gunga Din, Rudyard Kipling
When Americans conquered Philippines, he felt that white race will bring enlightenment to ignorant people of Philippines (“sullen people, half devil and half child”). In fact he felt that white race was doing natives of Asia and Africa a great favour by ruling them. He called it “White Man’s burden”.
“Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child”
-White Man’s Burden, Rudyard Kipling
In 1907, at the age of 41, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
“He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition… Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally.”
-George Orwell on Rudyard Kipling
Six years later in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore won Nobel Prize in Literature; he was first non-European to win Noble Prize.
Unlike Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore was a liberal and believed in equality.
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls”
-Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
Difference of attitude could be seen in their reaction to Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where hundreds of unarmed Indians were shot by British soldiers just because they were protesting against British administration. Many died. The firing orders were given by General Dyer. This event was condemned by leaders in India and Britain. Even Winston Churchill condemned it. But Rudyard Kipling saw a “brave man” in General Dyer and paid tribute to him.
“A brave man who in the face of a great peril did his duty as he saw it”
-Rudyard Kipling on General Dyer
Reaction of Rabindranath Tagore different, he renounced his knighthood and protested against the massacre.
“The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.”
-Rabindranath Tagore, renouncing his Knighthood.
“A great crime has been done in the name of law in the Punjab”.
Rabindranath Tagore was not just critical of British; he did not spare Gandhi during Bihar earthquake. Gandhi had called Bihar earthquake a punishment to upper castes for practicing untouchability. Tagore rebuked him for making such ignorant statement.