Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Arrah Patsy mind the baby.....Stalky and Co.

This was certainly not what I had originally had in mind, with a host of topics ranging from the Holoucast to Hamilton's pygmallion story to Jisatsu Saakuru but after a chat with my friend yesterday, sat up reading Kipling's Stalky and Co. yesterday for i guess the zillionth time. The book is like a vintage wine.....gets better with every reading.
First off, this is NOT your usual school story. While mentions of Eric and St. Winifred's (especially Eric), are scattered throughout the book, there is no sermonising or cut out characters who are either black or white. Everybody from Stalky to Mr.King are made of liberal shades of gray. Couple that with Kipling's unique style and we have a book that is sheer class. As I mentioned this book cannot be compared to traditional classics like the above two by Farrars or Tom Brown's schooldays. Neither does Kipling glorify the anti hero as Crompton does with William. The very setting is not the usual English public school but rather a public limited company where the parent's are also shareholders and most of the kids trying for the army for whom the barracks is a home away from home. Unlike in Eric or Tom Brown, Kipling does not make heavy weather of the usual schoolboy vices like drinking or puffing on a cigar. Kipling merely accepts this as part and parcel of school life and moves on. In sharp contrast to the other books is Kipling's moral code too. Stalky is extremely relieved when he does not have to tell a lie to his peers but has no scruples of pulling the legs of his masters. The attitude of the head too, is truly amazing.....a downy bird indeed!! The whole book deals with the escapades of Stalky, Beetle and McTurk, and the war they wage against authority - masters and prefects. The retribution that follows when anyone crosses their path - with punishment suiting crime is hilarious. The scenes when the masters hear the "putrid talk" and recognise it as variants of their own leaves you howling with laughter, as does the private battle waged between Beetle and King.....the final encounter where the Latin paper is printed incorrectly due to Beetle "helping" the printer unkown to him, and the chaos that follows is sheer class. And unlike other school stories, the finale where Stalky is absent and the rest narrate his encounters in the army...ah.....i do not have enough superlatives.
All in all, while this may not go down as a traditional school boy classic, true aficionados of the genre will no doubt count this among their favourites. A must read.

- Hari

No comments: