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Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” narrates the story of a heroic Indian water bearer with the same name who serves in the British Indian Army during the colonial era in India. The poem, published in 1892, is narrated by a British soldier who reflects on his experiences with Gunga Din. Gunga is viewed as a loyal and hardworking person, in spite of being discriminated against because of his low birth. The poem explores the friendship and loyalty between the British soldiers and Gunga Din. Gunga never faltered from his loyalty and bravery and that reflected him as a symbol of resilience and honour. The poem has gained a wide readership in the world, even leading to a Hollywood film of the same name in 1939.
About the poet
Rudyard Kipling, an English poet and author, is most famously known for working on themes of imperialism, colonialism and patriotism. His notable works include “The Jungle Book,” which has revolutionized the moral dilemmas and conflicts inherent in colonial rule. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, which makes him the first English-language writer to receive the honour. Though he did face criticism for his portrayal of non-European cultures, especially from the imperialist viewpoint, his writings are truly canonized in the literary society.
The poem, in the form of a ballad, is made up of 84 lines in the form of a narration. It is broken down into five 17 line stanzas. The dialect of the poem is immediately brought to attention upon reading it. Words have been shortened and plenty of slang has been used. This might cause interference into an otherwise smooth reading of the poetry as the words in the poem do not flow smoothly.
Summary and Analysis
You may talk o’ gin and beer When you’re quartered safe out ’ere, An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it; But when it comes to slaughter You will do your work on water, An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it. Now in Injia’s sunny clime, Where I used to spend my time A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen, Of all them blackfaced crew The finest man I knew Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din, He was ‘Din! Din! Din! ‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din! ‘Hi! Slippy hitherao ‘Water, get it! Panee lao, ‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’
In the opening line of “Gunga Din,” the speaker addresses the listeners directly. He explains to the group that drinking “gin and beer” while serving in the military is acceptable when you’re secure while engaged in “penny-fights,” or minor alterations. However, circumstances shift when there is a bloodbath. There’s no opportunity to unwind at that point, and no enjoyable beverages are available. One has to depend on fluids in its place. That is when Gunga Din will enter the narrative. The use of a different dialect shows dedication towards one country. The word “inja” is used to refer to India which Gunga uses while fighting with his fellow British comrades for the Queen.
Throughout the poem different opinions have been expressed using a series of words and phrases, quite unique from what the readers read to this day. It is, however, quite derogatory to the Indian, including Gunga himself. The fact that in spite of the Indians working alongside the English, their jobs were indeed humiliating. Gunga was one of them, his job being carrying water. He is referred to as “bhisti,” or water carrier. Gunga’s perseverance is praised here as he is going on with his assigned job along with all the sufferings. However the treatment meted out to him is terrible as the British often take out their anger and frustrations on Gunga. They would assign derogatory names to him, beat him and treat him like a menial slave. The need to feel superior came to them by treating one of their comrades as an inferior over the fact that he is Indian.
The uniform ’e wore Was nothin’ much before, An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind, For a piece o’ twisty rag An’ a goatskin water-bag Was all the field-equipment ’e could find. When the sweatin’ troop-train lay In a sidin’ through the day, Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl, We shouted ‘Harry By!’ Till our throats were bricky-dry, Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all. It was ‘Din! Din! Din! ‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been? ‘You put some juldee in it ‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute ‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’
The second stanza is more detailed than the previous one. The speaker provides details of Gunga. This shows him more as a character. The speaker says that Gunga is seen in possession of a “piece o’twisty rag” and “a goatskin water-bag.” Though it’s not like he is provided with these items, he is made to find them. The speaker also recounts those days when Gunga was pushed around by the soldiers’ orders who would lay around. They would command him to rush and even though Gunga moved as fast as he could, they would continue to hit and insult him at every opportunity they got. They would call him “earthen” and threaten him if he failed to carry out their biddings.
In this stanza the speaker has indeed shown a great deal about Gunga, which points out the fact that he has been given notice. The readers appreciate the fact that Gunga has been given notice for more than what he can provide. He is not just a place for abuse but there’s more to him than meets the eye. Gunga is often abused by his comrades and that simply does not stop. He remains loyal to them and does his work as fast as possible for him. The readers quickly note that he has been downtrodden over and over again, the refrain “Din! Din! Din!” adds a haunting and demeaning tone to his identity. He is made to feel small on purpose as they keep on threatening him. This shows how colonialism destabilizes the identity of someone. How they are kept under the control of brutal colonial ventures and ordered to do their bidding.
’E would dot an’ carry one Till the longest day was done; An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear. If we charged or broke or cut, You could bet your bloomin’ nut, ’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear. With ’is mussick on ’is back, ’E would skip with our attack, An’ watch us till the bugles made 'Retire,’ An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide ’E was white, clear white, inside When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire! It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’ With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green. When the cartridges ran out, You could hear the front-ranks shout, ‘Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!’
This stanza projects the pitiful state of Gunga. He would always perform his real job amidst all the threats and abuse. Gunga would plunge into the battlefield with no fear. Bullets couldn’t stop Gunga from backing out. The speaker further says that upon seeing Gunga one might say that the man doesn’t know what fear is. Gunga’s place was fifty paces behind, always ready to bring them water whenever needed. The stanza encounters a problematic line in the middle of the line when the poet writes Gunga having a “dirty hide” but a “clean white, inside,” though it ends up in a praise. The stanza ends with gunfights everywhere yet the only sound that was clearly heard were the men calling “Din!”
Gunga was truly a gem of a person as he would perform his designated duty with no complaints and under all circumstances. He knows no fear as he would walk right into the battle. The speaker shows how valiant and brave he was, and that fear had no place in his life. However, by keeping him fifty paces behind shows how badly he suffered in the company of the white British. He was kept behind so as to provide necessities to others. A “good, grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din,” he is an “earthen” who is simple and foolish. The depiction is quite unsettling. Nevertheless, a negative image of British soldiers remains there. They are harsh and noisy, and they make a lot of accusations. They depend on Gunga for the most basic nutrition, yet they have no choice but scream and make fun of them, albeit in a humorous way. “E was white, clear white, inside,” that can be read as a denigrate to both those who were part of Din’s ethnicity, whose racism indicates wickedness, and the narrative’s fellow men for their uncivil conduct that eliminates their own race, is Kipling’s use of Din’s representation of racism in tandem with his innate morality.
I shan’t forgit the night When I dropped be’ind the fight With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been. I was chokin’ mad with thirst, An’ the man that spied me first Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din. ’E lifted up my ’ead, An’ he plugged me where I bled, An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green. It was crawlin’ and it stunk, But of all the drinks I’ve drunk, I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din. It was 'Din! Din! Din! ‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen; ‘’E's chawin’ up the ground, ‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around: ‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!
In the fourth stanza the speaker talks why things changed for him suddenly. He admits that even he used to hate Gunga and used to abuse him like the rest but one day the truth hit his eyes. The speaker was shot and when he was suffering it was Gunga who found him in his dire condition. Gunga could have walked right away as a form of revenge for all the inhuman torture meted to him by the speaker, but he stopped and helped the speaker. He gave the latter water and tried healing his wound. The readers note the soldier’s gratitude when he gratefully drinks up the water offered to him by Gunga.
The speaker demonstrates the incident that changed his viewpoint regarding Gunga Din. He tells the readers the act of kindness that Gunga Din had done. He says that night was unforgettable for him when he was shot on the battlefield and he laid on the ground being wounded. Gunga Din was the initial individual to assist him at that trying moment on the field of battle. He did not ignore his opponent’s suffering and exacted retribution for the cruelty that he meted out to Gunga Din. Notwithstanding everything that the speaker had said to him, Gunga Din stepped up to offer assistance. Even the speaker returned Gunga’s kindness by drinking up the water which was not even fit for drinking. This stanza shows how good of a person Gunga is and that one good turn deserves another.
’E carried me away To where a dooli lay, An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean. ’E put me safe inside, An’ just before ’e died, 'I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din. So I’ll meet ’im later on At the place where ’e is gone— Where it’s always double drill and no canteen. ’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals Givin’ drink to poor damned souls, An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din! Yes, Din! Din! Din! You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din! Though I’ve belted you and flayed you, By the livin’ Gawd that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
It is finally in the fifth stanza that the truth is revealed. Gunga was hit by a bullet while he was trying to save the soldier’s life. He was trying to carry the wounded man to safety when the bullet hit him, “come an’ drilled the beggar clean.” In spite of a fatal gun wound, Gunga continued to drag the speaker to safety. Before taking his last breath, Gunga said that he hoped the speaker “liked” his “drink.” This final scene changed the way the speaker thought about Gunga. He openly admits that everything was his fault from the very beginning and Gunga has always remained the best man.
The poet describes the terrible aspect of Gunga Din in the final stanza. He claims that he was shot whilst attempting to defend himself. He dragged the wounded man to safety while taking a gunshot to the chest. He didn’t give a damn concerning his injuries or his well-being; he was more inclined to aid his comrade. In addition, his final remarks were further agonizing. Gunga Din expressed to the warrior his hopes that he had a good time drinking. He initially mocks the gentle man, but after seeing him, his attitude has shifted. He became aware of Gunga Din’s cruel behavior and pride. The last phrase serves as a representation of what the speaker has to say for the foreseeable future. He professes his longing to sit by a flame with Gunga Din once more and have a second beverage. The speaker now acknowledges his errors and evil deeds. Well, he says Gunga Din was always a greater guy than he had been.