The Indian Institute of Advanced Study and the UK’s Kipling Society are holding a conference in Shimla on the theme “Kipling in India: India in Kipling” on April 26-28. However, it should not be forgotten that when Rudyard Kipling was writing about the subcontinent, India included the then province of Burma. Indeed, it could be claimed that Kipling’s impact on Western perceptions of Burma, now the country known as Myanmar, was almost as great as it was on foreign images of India.
When tourists arrive at Yangon International Airport these days, the chances are that their heads are full of romantic notions planted there by the “Bard of the British Empire”. For, more than anyone else, he is responsible for the popular picture of Myanmar as an exotic land of golden pagodas, swaying toddy palms and demure women. His iconic poem about a retired British soldier pining for a “neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land” has attracted visitors to the country for over a century. The great irony, however, is that Kipling knew little about Burma, visited it only once, very briefly, and never went to the places that are most often associated with his name.
When Kipling was a journalist in India at the end of the 19th century, he read reports about Myanmar and heard tales told by British soldiers who had served there. He wrote several short stories and newspaper verses about it, such as “The Taking of Lungtungpen” (1887) and “The Ballad of Boh Da Thone” (1888). It was not until 1889, however, that he actually went there, on a voyage back to the UK. Kipling was only in Myanmar for three days. As he later wrote, his sojourn in Rangoon (now Yangon) was “countable by hours” and a stopover he made in Moulmein was even shorter. He dreamt about living in Myanmar, but never did so, as several writers have claimed. Nor did he ever sail on the Irrawaddy River or go to the old royal capital.
Full story: Indian Express
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