Reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book: A journey into the world of my childhood
Last Updated on September 1, 2018 by Memorila
Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes that Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book tells how Mowgli, the man cub, defeated the fierce and most feared Shere Khan, the tiger, and that the story inspires courage and bravery in kids
I cannot say my parents were rich whilst I was but a boy, but at least we had a coloured television (at a time when many homes made do with black and white TV) where I saw cartoon programmes at the early hours of dawn and late noon – ranging from Turtle Ninjas, Robocop, Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Scobby Doo, Ghost Bursters, Tom and Jerry, The Lion King, Tarzan of the Apes, Winnie the Pooh, and many others which I can no more recall. But there was one which I loved the most and that was Jungle Book! The tune of old Baloo’s song “O, the sesemee…” or whatever it was back then keeps reverberating in my head even though I know not the correct wordings in it. Boy, that was a jolly good time I tell you! Then, we used to wonder why our parents were more concerned with listening to news when there was so much fun to be derived from seeing cartoons and were horrified every time our parents asked us to tune the television to Channels TV Station, what horror! Hahahaha! I am older now and I have very little time to spare for entertainment as cartoons, I only want to listen to the news too, haha!
Then I did not know that there existed written versions of these cartoons I saw till I became much older and developed a strong love for that which is written and authors. I have since laid hands on some of these children classics such as Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland, Tarzan of the Apes, etc and read them.
However, I find that I am still excited by my childhood memories and this is probably why I bought Rudyard Kipling’s book the moment I noticed it at a book store.
My friendship with Rudyard Kipling began not with The Jungle Book (for then I cared not to know who conceived the story), it began rather with a poem of his titled “If” and I loved that poem for the advice it proffered, that poem spoke to a younger me and I was eager to listen. I was later to know that the man who wrote such a wonderful poem was unable to establish himself as a great poet but he did become a great storyteller and one of his stories is The Jungle Book!
I think the advantage of being birthed and trained in colonial India was of great advantage to Rudyard Kipling. And India, more than his native England, forms the backdrop for almost all of his stories. Perhaps, the only blot to this master storyteller’s image is his being charged with racism yet his literary status remains undiminished.
In The Jungle Book do we meet Mowgli, the man cub who is brought up from infancy among wolves and trained by Akeela, leader of the wolves of the Seeonee pack, Bagheera the panther, and Baloo the bear. These set of animals protect Mowgli from Shere Khan the tiger who killed Mowgli’s parents and is desperate to make a sumptuous meal of Mowgli also. From his trainers, Mowgli learns the laws of the jungle, how to relate and maintain safety when he meets other animals even as he prepares to defeat and own the skin of his ultimate enemy Shere Khan the tiger. The story is an interesting adventure tale, one that would keep you excited till the very end.
Apart from the titular story, “The Jungle Book,” there are also four other stories, all with animal characters. There is “The White Seal” about an albino seal who discovers a safe island where young seals could grow without being subjected to human attack and death. “Rikki-tikki-tavi” is another favourite of mine which tells the story of a young domesticated mongoose named Rikki-tikki-tavi which saves its owners as well as other animals in the compound from the fear of snakes, especially Nag and Nagin (male and female cobras) whom it kills after dangerous battles. “Toomai of the Elephants” is of a young Indian elephant driver whose three generations has been in the business of training elephants. He is taken by the family elephant, Kala Nag, to a secret gathering of elephant called “the elephants’ dance” which no man has ever been privileged to witness and for this he is honoured and celebrated by elephant drivers and trainers who give him the title of Toomai of the Elephants. Lastly is “Servants of the Queen” which brings about a meeting of various animals, such as camels, mules, horses, and dog who discuss their experiences in the service of man and wonder why they must obey orders.
As pointed out before, Rudyard Kipling’s experience as a Britisher born and bred in India helped to formulate ideas for his stories, the animals bear India names and the stories exhibit subtle representations and influence of colonialism on the Indian soil, “Toomai of the Elephants” especially. We also get to experience a bit of the colonial India’s rich religious and cultural practices in the stories told by Rudyard Kipling. The author’s understanding and description of animals and their behavioural pattern could only have come from a close affinity and observation of nature which the rural India society provides.
I shall keep this book, albeit not for myself, but for my numerous offspring that are yet to be. I want them to know the story of Mowgli the man cub and how he defeated the fierce and most feared Shere Khan the tiger. Perhaps, it would inspire ideals of courage and bravery in them and maybe someday when they are old, the story will offer to them sweet memories of childhood as it has offered to me, this very day.
© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2018