27 November 2009

Rudyard Kipling's home in Mumbai

Rudyard Kipling’s birthplace is being converted into a museum. The 2-storey timber and stone cottage was built before his birth in Dec 1865. Located in the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art and Industry in Bombay/Mumbai, it was always been used as the official residence of the school's principal. The cottage is a typical colonial building, with high ceilings and sloping roofs and is surrounded by a lush garden. The cottage has been lying vacant for almost a decade and some parts need urgent repairs.

Kipling's home museum, Mumbai

1865 was a significant year. Rudyard was born then but it was also the year his father, Lockwood Kipling, joined the Art School as principal. So this museum has been a possibility for a very long time. What took the Maharashtra state government so long to decide?

There are at least two problems associated with making this bungalow into a centre for honouring Kipling. Firstly, as History and Traditions of England blog noted, Kipling was only aged six when he left Mumbai. Although he often returned to other parts of India, especially Lahore, Simla and Allahabad, the Mumbai house cannot possibly represent his literary endeavours.

This is not an insurmountable problem. The Art School has a vast collection of paintings, dating from 1850, which will now be part of an art museum. Only one of the rooms will be called the Kipling Room and will be dedicated to Kipling material. In any case, Rudyard wasn’t the only Kipling to have made a huge contribution to Indian culture. Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard’s father, had a connection to Mumbai's architectural development. Lockwood’s architectural designs for the Victoria Terminus railway station building and the municipal headquarters opposite it were very important.

There is a more problematic issue to deal with: Rudyard’s colonialist reputation remains controversial for post-colonial writers in India and elsewhere. Orwell called Kipling as a "prophet of British imperialism", a man so devoted to duty, service and empire that his writing was bound to be full of prejudice, racism and an absolute belief in Britain’s military correctness. The White Man's Burden (1899) will suffice as an example:

Take up the White Man's burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

A Blog About History recognised the problems that the Mumbai museum faces. The municipal government officials with whom the Museum staff deal... refer to the building, not as the Kipling house, but the Dean’s house. Worse, they believe that Kipling is officially still persona non grata, a situation that is rather slow to change. But he was certainly a man of his time and he wrote better than any other writer about British empire-building. The new museum won’t whitewash Kipling’s pro-colonial stance but it will recognise his work as a product of his passionately-felt ideals. No English writer quite put India on the map as keenly as Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling, The Jungle Book

And it is not a problem for today’s children. The Penguin India Blog said the young students in her class adored the imaginative world that Kipling created and the fantastic pictures produced by the illustrators. Blog de Monica noted that The Jungle Book was still totally enjoyable for 21st century children. Even before reaching reading age, children have been able to understand the stories. breathedreamgo blog put Kim at the top of her list of loved books about India. She said she had been reading for 43 years and had never read a book that was so in the moment.

I believe the Maharashtra state government is hoping every child who visits Mumbai will feel the same way.


Emm said...

What a picturesque place. I can see how it might have spurred him on to write such adventures later on in life.

Anonymous said...

Hels - another interesting post. The Jungle Book was one of the first books I read when I was little and the first Disney film my mum took me to see! (a few years ago now...)

You may already know but Kiplings impressive home in the UK, Batemans in East Sussex, is open to the public and looked after by the National Trust.


Stephen McClarence said...

In Mumbai Rudyard Kipling’s Yorkshire-born father, John Lockwood Kipling, was an architectural sculptor who became the first principal of the Jeejeebhoy School of Art in the centre of the city, and settled in a whitewashed bungalow where Rudyard was born and spent his first five years. The bungalow was demolished and replaced by the elegant but empty green timber building as seen in the post. Plans have been announced to convert it into a Kipling-themed tourist ­attraction.

Memories of the author linger across the ever-bustling city of Mumbai. Kipling was christened in St Thomas Cathedral, within which visitors look upon walls that are crammed with grieving marble memorials to servants of the Empire who “fell sacrifice to the climate” or were “treacherously deprived of life”.

Stephen McClarence
The Australian, 23rd Jan 2016

Hels said...


I don't think I remembered that the bungalow was demolished and replaced by the elegant green timber building as seen in the post. Does this affect the authenticity of Rudyard Kipling’s birth home, do you think?

Hels said...


I am coming back to Rudyard Kipling again this year, so I will create a link between the posts. Still a fascinating topic!

Hels said...


I loved Batemans in East Sussex. The excellent library still holds all his writing paraphernalia. He was very punctual about this work and each morning, at a fixed time, he went to his study to write. This home must have been very comfortable and intimate for him.