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Rudyard Kipling's Gunga Din examined for Poetry Month

First published in 1892 in Barrack-Room Ballads by Rudyard Kipling, Gunga Din has stood the test of time spawning not only controversial thought about British Imperialism, but also first rate movie adaptations.

The 1939 Alabama Hills of California standing in for India's Khyber Pass of the Victorian era.
Photo from wikicommons

Gunga Din is a regimental bhisti or water boy who is called names, roughed up, tricked, and generally abused by British soldiers also serving in his regiment.

Despite this abuse, Gunga Din is resolute in wanting to the best soldier of the British Army, much to the embarrassment of the real British soldiers the water boy serves with.

But in the poem and movie, the soldiers realize Gunga Din is honest and true to his goal, often displaying courage that out weighs racial stereotypes common to the British Empire.

Gunga Din’s sacrifices and courage bite deep into the embraced racism of the regiment’s soldiers and he is soon more than an equal in their eyes.

The poem is a powerful read and the 1939 black & white film is an A list adventure feature starring Sam Jaffe, Cary Grant, Doug Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglan. The film is not dated and the uncomfortable racism theme is explored thoroughly and combined expertly into action by director George Stevens.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and other films have drawn on themes presented in both Kipling’s poem and the 1939 film production.

Gunga Din is one poem containing many elements from Rudyard Kipling’s experiences in India and the poem’s lines are timeless. And this is why both story and film illustrate a Victorian era that has never gone out of style.


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