By DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & Co. 1918. 12mo, iv + 101 pp. $1.00.. New York:
LOVERS of Kipling will welcome this new volume, full of the quaint phrasing, the naïve thought and feeling of Indian folk whose interpreter he has long been. The horror and the glory of the struggle on the Western front, where Indian regiments fought in the Great War, come home to us in the poetic expression of this childlike race which speaks, nay, thinks, in figure. Major Bishen Singh Saktawut, 215th Rajputs, author of the first letter, writes from Hampshire of his wounded leg. It has already healed, but is frightened of the ground. He mourns his officer Sahib now dead. ‘During a railway journey, when two people sit side by side for two hours, one feels the absence of the other when he alights.’ Everyone is good to him: ‘The King himself gave me the medal for fetching in The captain out of the wires, on my back.’ Englishwomen are unwearied in nursing the wounded Indian soldier: ‘I am like a dying tree in a garden of flowers.’
It was a happy thought on the part of the Interpreter of the East to flash out, from different points of view, aspects of the Asiatic mind confronted by the gigantic struggle. The old imaginative power of interpreting, of entering into and translating, other personalities is here. Here, as in his earlier work, are the odd psychological reactions, the warm affections of a primitive people.
‘Do I remember? Am I a block of wood or an old churn? ’ indignantly inquires the Afghan mother, when asked if she remembers how her son used to make mud-pies. Wrapped in a red cotton quilt, in a stone-built tower-house reached by a ladder, she is listening to a letter from her son at the front, while her husband, an elderly Afghan with purple-dyed beard, lies on a native cot. Flashes of tenderness shine out against a background of savagery. A little French child, who claimed the regiment as her own, writes the Afghan soldier son, had been slain while grazing cattle. ‘There were no hired mourners.’
The enlarging mind of the Oriental, coming into contact with Western thought, Western habits, and modern inventions, is deftly suggested. To his foolish old farmer brother, who knows nothing except the road to market, the wounded Sikh writes much of the wise and thrifty ways of the French. It is a world, it seems, in which women as well as men hold positions of honorable toil; would it not be well for India to think of these things? A trooper of horse, Duffadar Abdul Rahman, writes to his old mother, ‘This world abounds in marvels beyond belief.’ Will she see that his little son drinks only water that has been boiled? Ah, if that mother could only seethe girls of eight years that can cast accounts! The children in this country are learned from their very birth.
This is no random interpreting, done for the mere picturesqueness of thought and of speech. Kipling the patriot is at work, holding steadily to an ulterior purpose which differentiates these letters from the objective dramatic sketches of old days. The most significant passages are those which suggest the wakening of the Eastern mind to an insight into British virtues: courage, silence, the tendency to underrate all achievement, the obligation on the part of those of highest caste to do the hardest work. The women, like the men, are brave, self-controlled, unceasing in kindness. Truly, India had never dreamed the greatness of England and the English.
Kipling, in The Eyes of Asia, confounds his own prophecy, —
For East is East, and West is West,
And never the twain shall meet;
And never the twain shall meet;
Here, they meet in the hour of England’s danger, facing the same foe; meet in a common service to England, and to certain old ideals of courage, loyalty, and disinterestedness which represent the high-water mark of aspiration and of endeavor of the English race.