Thursday, July 14, 2011

Plain Tales from Hills

A few years back, a friend lent me this collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling. When I returned it to her, she asked me what I thought of it. "it's very boring. Didn't like it at all." She sounded very surprised and disappointed and said, "oh, the blurb made it sound really interesting and I was looking forward to reading it."

 Perhaps a more honest reply should have been it completely went over my head, I didn't get it, so what could I possibly like about it? But that's not how I looked at the things then. But a few weeks ago, my father gave this book to me, with similar cooments as mine, and advised me to return the book to the same friend from whom he had borrowed the book. (History repeats itself?) His comments reminded me of my original opinion about the book, but a lot had changed during the space of those few years. I had come to adore Kipling and wondered how could I not like his stories! So, I decided to re read the stories and see if the change in perception would change my opinion.

It's a fact that this book has multiple layers. Not to mention you need a lot of 'background' knowledge to truly enjoy it. And although I don't like Kipling's 'white man's burden' philosophy, there is no denying that Kipling is a master storyteller! If you stop analyzing his work from a post colonial point of view, and stop being offended at the attitude he adopts towards natives, you cannot help but admire his craft. The craft and also...though he may not have intended it this way...the realization that languages, races, colours, creeds etc are just external trappings and esentially all human beings are similar. They are motivated by the same drives, their emotions are same, even if the way they express it be different from others. And what a sharp observation he had. Oh, and the language he uses, simply exquisite! How can one not fall in love with the book!

My personal favourites from the collection are Lispeth, In the House of Suddhoo, The Story of Muhammad Din, A Bank Fraud and The Other Man. Some of them are very tragic and leave you sorrowful, others are light and full of cheer. But each one of them is worth reading many times. The 'hills' in the titles refer to Simla, where most of the stories are set, even though some of them are set in places like Lahore, Peshawar etc. It's interesting to imagine what Lahore must have been like at that time, and what was it like to live in 'the city' back in those days. It's also difficult though interesting to imagine how people could have easily travelled across the country, in pre partition era. In one word...fascinating!
So after a decade or so, I take back my words and declare that Plain Tales from Hills is an absolute masterpiece of English literature. And I am so sorry that my thoughtless comments caused my friend to think it was a 'boring sort of a book' and consequently she never read it.


Khalid But said...

I have started re-reading, I will let you know how I perceive it this time.

Arimas said...

Oh, do you bought a copy of your own? I loves this book so much the second time around.

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