Fiona Fernandez Column: In Kipling country

“Madam, yeh hai woh world famous jagah jaha se Kipling saab ne Jungle Book likha,” announced Trilok Narayan, our Hinglish speaking guide. Deep in the heart of the Pench National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, our group stood inside a tree-top wooden watchtower, gazing at the deciduous foliage. Die hard fans of the Kipling classic, with our favourite characters et al, we badly wanted to believe his claim.

Never one to miss out on a chance to slip into imaginary mode, the scene was ready to be played out on that sunny afternoon in March - Bagheera stayed atop one of the sal trees, camouflaged, as he watched over Mowgli who was prancing around by the stream that crossed the jungle. The commotion created by the Bandar lok echoed beyond their abode inside an abandoned temple. Colonel Haathi and his comrades stomped past in purposeful retreat as they headed home to their families. Kaa slithered around rock-cut caves, waiting to strike. And finally, Sher Khan sat atop a hill that offered him a vantage view of proceedings below. Rudyard Kipling’s inspiration for the world-famous children’s book had its origins in central India’s jungles, and for history and literature’s sake we hoped that we weren’t too far from where it all came together.

Back in concrete Mumbai, we’d take a moment each time we passed by a green-coloured structure inside the Sir JJ School of Art campus, believed to have been the birthplace of Rudyard Kipling. Charles Allen’s Kipling Sahib, however, cites that his birth took place at another building that was ‘some yards away.’ His father, John Lockwood Kipling was a respected educator of the prestigious institution, and Kipling junior (called Ruddy) spent several years of his childhood inside the wooded environs of the campus.

Last week, on December 30, on his 150th birth anniversary, poets, writers, teachers and Kipling buffs came together to celebrate his works. It was a gathering of like-minded voices, as they recalled his contribution and read from his works. Soon, all will be forgotten, and like most historic dates, the event and the individual(s) fades away.

But what if this space were to be converted into a permanent museum? Where it emerges as a must-visit stop on city itineraries, with planned walk-throughs and trails within the campus? Appeals and proposals have been doing the rounds for a while; some groups have suggested the hosting of an annual literary festival. Yet, nothing concrete has happened. If Mumbai intends to become a cultural hub or come close, literature must be one of the driving factors that need the extra push. Case in point: London’s marvelous tributes to Dickens, Doyle and co. The writing is on the wall, Mumbai.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag @mid-day.com

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