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This report is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

Kipling on the Phantom Rickshaw Tabish Khair

A phantom rickshaw appears every ten years or so in the English-reading world. It haunts various literary journals and magazines for a few months and then disappears, only to materialise again after a decade or two, pulled by a different literary coolie this time. The man sitting in this spectral rickshaw is always Rudyard Kipling, though you would hardly think so at times because this is a ghost that appears, often alternately, in two very different forms.

After the last round of haunting - the highpoint of which was a dense and brilliant literary essay by Sara Suleri in the Rhetoric of English India Kipling is back among us. And, as is common, his reappearance has coincided with another biography - Harry Ricketts' The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling.

In the usual course of events, Kipling is dragged out on his spectral rickshaw - pedalled furiously by a writer or critic (increasingly a native) and dressed up either as the White Man's Burden or as the Great Universal Writer. As the White Man's Burden, he is everything that we should never be: not only a patriarchal colonialist but also a racist. As the Great Universal Writer, he is everything we can never be: not only a genius able to understand and narrate all men, women and animals but also pure as, well, driven snow. Usually, if Kipling is raised from the dead as the former this decade, he is liable to stalk ...

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