Kipling to Mumbai

Neither by service nor fee Come I to mine estate – Mother of Cities to me, But I was born in her gate, Between the palms and the sea, Where the world-end steamers wait

Rudyard Kipling in his memoir ‘Something of Myself’ an ode to the erstwhile Bombay.

The Jungle Book has been loved and read by generations of Indians. But strangely, Kipling, the “bard of empire”, has always been difficult to place in the cultural pantheon, not only by the Indians but by the British as well. The first winner (in 1907) of the Nobel prize for literature (and still the youngest ever from anywhere), the Indian-born British author has a deep-rooted connection to Mumbai. He was shipped off to London at the age of six and returned to the city only once at the age of 17, when he stayed in Mumbai for a few days before heading off to Lahore to join the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG). Although he referred to his time at the Gazette as “hard”, it was an ideal literary apprenticeship which allowed him to gain deeper understanding on the layers of Indian life, that influenced his future writings, including his famous book The Jungle book which was based on Seoni in Madhya Pradesh, a place which incidentally, he has never visited. No English writer has been able to definitevly place India on the map as keenly as Rudyard Kipling.

Hidden behind a blanket of trees at the back of the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai, lies the dilapidated, but once grand, former home of writer Rudyard Kipling. Almost consumed by the spreading trees leaning against its roof, with peeling green paint and rotting wooden balconies, this colonial bungalow with its high ceiling and sloping roofs was the official residence of the JJ School of Art’s dean. Rudyard’s father John Lockwood Kipling served as the first dean of the school and the Kipling family lived on campus.

Kipling House

The original house of Kipling’s birth was, however, demolished as it crumbled away. The present structure, called the “Kipling House” which came up adjacent to the original bungalow, was constructed in 1882 almost a decade after Kipling had left for England. If it wasn’t for the guided city walk conducted by Khaki Tours, and the plaque placed outside the house, I would not have imagined the existence of this victorian bunglow and its connection with the most famous writer.

Beyond Rudyard’s rudimentary connection, interestingly the father – Lockwood Kipling, played a role in the architectural development of Mumbai, especially the designs for the Victoria Terminus station building and the municipal headquarters.

Some interesting reads for those who want to learn more about Rudyard Kipling‘s connection to India and the influence on his writings.

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