[October 28 2005]
This story was first published in The Week’s News of 11 February 1888, collected in In Black and White the same year and Soldiers Three in 1895.
Not a few Anglo-Indians in Kipling’s day believed in 'Theosophy', a pseudo-religious philosophy, based loosely on spiritualism, and embraced by - among others - Annie Besant and Helena Blavatsky. [See the Note to Page 307, line 10.] This tale, which has not been very highly regarded by the critics, is an elaborate jest at their expense.
Dana Da, a mysterious figure who is dying of drink and drugs, and claims to have supernatural powers, owes a debt of gratitude to an Englishman, and offers to place a curse, in the form of a 'Sending', on any enemy he wishes to name.
Though sceptical about the supernatural the Englishman agrees that Dana Da can arrange for a Sending to Lone Sahib, who is a believer, with the aim of embarrassing him. This takes the form of loathsome ‘wee white kittens’, which mysteriously keep appearing in Lone Sahib’s house. They are taken seriously as ‘manifestations’ by the spiritualist fraternity, and much debated; one charlatan even claims responsibility for them. But Dana Da, on his deathbed, reveals that that there is a perfectly simple explanation. He had simply bribed Lone Sahib’s bearer to buy kittens in the bazaar and hide them in his house, to be found at embarrassing moments.
Kipling had a journalist's instinct for exposing impostors, but he continued to take an interest in the supernatural, though writing at the end of his life in Something of Myself he stoutly denied giving it much credence. [See the note to page 215 line 13 in Chapter 8]. He was also very interested in dreams, and the effects of stress on the mind. See the stories "My Own True Ghost Story" and "The Phantom Rickshaw" in Wee Willie Winkie, "At the End of the Passage" and "The Mark of the Beast" in Life's Handicap, "'They'" in Traffics and Discoveries , "The House Surgeon" in Actions and Reactions, "'Swept and Garnished'" in A Diversity of Creatures, and "The Wish House", "A Madonna of the Trenches" and "The Gardener" in Debits and Credits.
Some critical comments
Martin Fido, (page 52) records that while Kipling senior denounced Madam Blavatsky, as an impostor, the young Kipling was in the somewhat embarrassing position of having an editor who was a believer !
Angus Wilson (page 266) briefly discusses the “transcendental experiences” of Kipling and his mother and sister, mentioning “The Finest Story in the World,” (Many Inventions) and the verse “En-Dor” in which the reader is warned against indulging in spiritualist practices.
[J H McG]
©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved