A Week in Lahore (7)

by Rudyard Kipling

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 3 February 1886

Sussex Scrapbooks 28/1, p. 55

The inescapability of the memento mori (remember, you must die!) in India impressed Kipling as it would any westerner. A passage in Something of Myself eloquently recalls the kind of experience more flippantly expressed in ‘A Week in Lahore’:
The dead of all times were about us — in the vast for¬gotten Moslem cemeteries round the Station, where one’s horse’s hoof of a morning might break through to the corpse below; skulls and bones tumbled out of our mud garden walls, and were turned up among the flowers by the Rains; and at every point were tombs of the dead (p. 42).
The verses that Kipling quotes he wrote sometime before July 1884, when they were used in an article for the CMG written by his mother. [T.P.]

But for the honour of the thing it might just as well be treacherous England. To bed on Saturday night in the certainty of a month of glorious sunshine; and to breakfast by lamplight on Sunday morning with the pleasing conviction that the rain has set in for the day. What can you expect from such a country and such weather? By all the laws of nature and Mr Blanford there ought to be a clear sky overhead and the koil (a small song-bird)should be thinking of rehearsing his summer operatic selections — instead of which: —
‘The sky is an inkstand upside down
Splashing the world with gloom
The earth is full of skeleton bones,’
and the rain is forcing them into unpleasant publicity. Everybody knows that Lahore is a cemetery of half a dozen cities at the least and that To-day builds its mud walls from the dust of the men of Yesterday — or the Day Before — but one does not care to be reminded of the fact every time it rains.

Victor Hugo in his Toilers of the Sea introduces a diver to the abode of a monstrous ‘poulpe’ (octopus). The man is uneasily conscious that there is ‘somebody smiling’ at the further end of the dusky cavern. Investigation reveals a skeleton. Very horrible of course, but perfectly true. About a year ago much the same thing happened in Lahore. A house stood near a deep clay cutting, and as surely as ever the owner drove through the gateway in the dusk he was conscious, to use his own words, of ‘some one grinning somewhere but for the life of me I couldn’t tell where’. He was not an observant man and 1 don’t think he had read Victor Hugo. For more than a week he was perplexed by this sensation of a smile somewhere. Eventually his eye fell on the cutting and there was the Cause of the grin looking out across the road and simpering at the passer by. It disappeared before the evening, and the grisly welcome ceased. This is a cheerful story and exactly matches the weather at the time of writing [....]