Kim, constrained

When Kim finds himself impounded in the barracks and the school, forced to wear clothes that prevent him squatting comfortably and that are so distinctive that it is impossible for him to run, he enlists the help of a sweeper, to fetch a scribe from the bazaar who will help him write a letter, a letter which he hopes will free him.

The sweeper says to the first scribe he finds 'there is a white boy by the barracks waiting under a tree who is not a white boy.' This appears to be the central curiosity of the novel so far, that he can embody both a white person and a non-white person. But so far I, a modern reader, do not believe he is really a sahib. I don't see blood purity, or skin colour, or ancestry as marking him as somehow different. He is of the culture he grew up in, he is a street-boy from Lahore, whether his belly is white or not. I imagine a reader in naughties of the 20th century would see this differently, that they might see it as a struggle to rectify Kim's place in the world, while simultaneously appreciating that it is a difficult problem. Without looking at sources from the time I cannot know what people thought about Kim, I only have my modern reading. Whatever Kipling intended, it is to some extent divorced from what I receive. Perhaps some would say entirely, but that does an injustice to my ability to empathise with the direction of the authorial voice of the prose, if that is something I can and do on occasion find myself noticing.

The letter does bring help: in the form of Mahbub Ali, the famous Afghan horse trader from Lahore. But Mahbub returns him to the barracks, first claiming he does so because he is known and cannot be an accomplice to Kim's flight, and then because he believes it is in Kim's best interest. This I did not like: the Colonel sahib and the native both believe the way of the sahib is better to a free life in great grey Indja. Can this be anything other than a colonial voice? I hope so.