(notes edited by Roberta Baldi)
| the poem
notes on the text |
[January 27th 2004]
First printed in the Pioneer, January 2nd, 1888, and the Pioneer Mail, January 4th, 1888. Collected in Departmental Ditties and Other Verses, 1886, E.V., 1900; I.V., 1919; D.V., 1940; Sussex Edition, Vol. 32, page 26; Burwash Edition, Vol. 25 (ORG entry: nr. 284, page 5190).
Background to the poem
The ORG notes that in the original publication this poem “had a prose heading quoting a Resolution of the National Congress urging the repeal of a law prohibiting the carrying of arms.” (ORG, 5190).
Ralph Durand, writing in 1914, commented:
"Hurree Chunder Mookerjee in this poem typifies the Bengali ‘babu’, the semi-literate representative of a race of which Macaulay wrote: ‘There never, perhaps, existed a people so thoroughly fitted by nature and by habit for a foreign yoke”. Prior to British rule in India the Bengalis were the constant prey of bolder and hardier races, and it is probable that, as this poem forecasts, their lot would be not a happy one if British occupation were withdrawn from them. Mentally the Bengalis are exceedingly acute, and they succeed admirably in any profession where mechanical intelligence is needed but bravery and initiatives are not. No sweeping condemnation of the Bengalis would, however, be just. Though they have an excessive fear of physical pain they have none of death. Either in an aeroplane or on a scaffold a Bengali will be calm and collect.
"Rudyard Kipling gives the more commendable side of the Bengali character in Kim. In that book the Babu, also called Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, admits that he is ‘a very fearful man’ and turns pale at the sound of the click of a rifle-breech, yet he shows a degree of moral courage that astonishes both the Irish lad and the reckless Afghan, Mahbub Ali.
"Each of the other characters in this poem represents one of the warlike races in India. Yar...