In the field of Universal Literature, one of the most famous novels of the British Indian-born writer Sir Rudyard Kipling is known by the name of Kim. It was first published in 1901, thanks to the work of MacMillan & Co. Ltd.
About the novel Kim
In this way, the Critics have described Kim as one of the most important contemporary picaresque novels. It describes the adventures and adventures of a young white man, raised in the Indica, to survive, and how he always achieves it thanks to small roguish acts. In the same way, this young character comes across several tutors or people who imply a change in his life, until he finally finds the one who will serve as his protector.
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However, the novel never ceases to present its protagonist, Kimball O´Hara, as a young orphan, uprooted from the concept of family and alone in and before the world. On the other hand, this novel can also be inscribed in the genre of espionage novels, since its author draws perfectly the actions of the British secret service, as well as the development of what he will call The Great Game, a situation of sustained counterespionage between the British Empire and the Russian Empire.
Finally, as a great connoisseur of both cultures, Kipling manages to construct in his novel a detailed description of the Indian people, in terms of their landscapes, modes, customs and sociological particularities, but always from the point of view of his character, who is a white boy, whose situation of uprooting and street life has led him to situate himself at the crossroads between the two worlds: one that offers him a government post in the British Empire, or another that will allow him his spiritual formation within Buddhism.
As for its content, Sir Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim can be said to begin with the presentation of its protagonist, a little boy called Kimball O´Hara, who is nicknamed Kim, and who, due to his orphaned state, inhabits the streets of Lahore, where he keeps running errands, as well as the goodwill of those who give him something in alms.
The novel also points to the origins of Kim, who is credited with being the son of an English soldier and a mother who is also white, but quite poor. However, neither sees for this child, who would therefore be a white young man, living on the streets of British India. However, his racial status doesn´t mean that he is treated differently by the Indian people, to whose culture Kim seems to be fully adopted, perhaps because he has grown up immersed in it.
Among the many small jobs that this rogue takes on in order to pay for his survival is the one he develops for Mahbub Ali, a man of money, who is in charge of trading in horses, an activity that he combines with another a little more discreet: being an agent of the British secret service. This merchant will be Kim’s gateway to the service, where they will work with him to turn him into a spy at the service of the British crown.
However, this is not the only life option that Kim will know, since in the course of the novel he will also meet a Tibetan lama, described as an old and known man, who is in search of the River of Arrow and Samsara. As part of his destiny, and with nothing to leave, Kim befriends the lama, and together parts in search of the River of Arrow. Kim has become the disciple the man.
Both young and old take as their route the road known as the Big Trunk. However, this will not only be a spiritual journey, but will lead Kim – and the reader as well – to get to know the Great Game, the way the novel calls the conflict and political tensions between the British Empire and the Russian Empire, and how these have unleashed a real counter-espionage game. In fact, at some point in the plot, Kim himself is chosen for a secret mission by the British: to carry a message to their commander in Ambala.
So too, at some point Kim will have to separate against his will from the lama, who has served as his master. The situation is decided by the chaplain of the regiment, in which Kim’s father serves, who discovers that the boy wears a Mason symbol on his neck. Despite Kim’s reluctance to make the decision, the lama manages to make him understand that it will be for his own good. It is in this way that Kim leaves for the city of Lucknow, where he will begin his studies in one of the best British schools, his benefactor being the lama.
Even in the distance, this boy is still in communication with his teacher, for whom he has great affection. However, the lama is not the only aspect of his former life with which Kim remains in contact, for during his time of study he has also continued to hear from the Secret Service, to which he enters on one of his vacations, being finally trained as a spy in the service of the British Empire. His mentor in this apprenticeship will be sahib Lurgan, a jeweler belonging to this spy force, who, among other knowledge, will reinforce Kim’s talent for memory, which they will exercise with what will be known in the book as The Game of Jewels.
After three years of arduous training, Kim is finally ready to receive his first missions, and start being an agent who participates in The Great Game. However, his superiors decide that before starting out as a spy, it’s best to take a good break. This is how Kim reunites with his friend, the lama, with whom he will leave for the Himalayas, in search of the River of Arrow, a journey that is partly decided by one of his superiors, the baboon Harry Chunder Mookherjee.
Contrary to what one might think in advance, this will not be a purely spiritual journey, but one full of delicate situations and where all of Kim’s spying expertise will be needed. Thus, at some point on the Himalayan journey, the lama finds himself in conflict with the Russian spies, who apprehend him. On the other hand, Kim -unknown for his training- manages to obtain important documents from the Russian intelligence forces, which will be of great value for the British, since in them they show much of how the work of the Russian force has been in territory controlled by the British Empire. Kim also managed to rescue his friend the lama, who was freed from Russian forces.
This setback in the journey makes the lama understand that what he is looking for does not belong in the mountains, but that he must look for it in the plain. After ordering his porters to return, and after walking a distance, he finally manages to find the River of the Arrow, achieving his spiritual enlightenment. On the other hand, the victory with the documents stolen from the Russians make Kim the center of interest for Manhub Ali, who visits him shortly after his mission.
The novel ends with Kim at a great crossroads in his life: since he doesn´t know which path to choose for his life, whether the spiritual path, within Tibetan Buddhism, or his preparation and training as a spy of the British service, to continue his participation in The Great Game. Kin even wonders if he won’t be able to keep both paths, reflecting the position he has always lived, occupying a border between British and Indian culture.
Image: portrait of Sir Rudyard Kipling, author of the novel Kim / Source: wikipedia.org