We have made it to week 4, and we are over halfway through the collected Jungle Books! How do you feel????
This post contains spoilers for “The Miracle of Puran Bhagat,” “Letting In The Jungle,” and “The Undertakers.” I was surprised by how well these three complimented each other (as well as fitting into the other stories as a whole); stay tuned after the show for some comments on that.
“The Miracle of Puran Bhagat”
Here’s my big question: What is the miracle of Puran Bhagat? I like how the way the title is worded makes it unclear if it’s a miracle that Puran Bhagat performs, or the person of Puran Bhagat is, himself, a miracle. Is the miracle the way Puran saves the villagers from a landslide? Or is it the animals who tell Puran about the landslide? Or is the miracle in the way that Puran starts out on one life track, and then switches to another life track, all within one life span? Puran himself “believed that all things were one big Miracle”, so is that the miracle of the story’s title? DISCUSS.
I really liked this story.
Please note that Puran Bhagat dies twice, once as Purun Dass: “….he did a thing no Englishman would have dreamed of doing; for, so far as the world’s affairs went, he died.” and once as Puran Bhagat: “…their Bhagat was dead, sitting cross-legged, his back against a tree, his crutch under his armpit, and his face turned to the northeast.”
There’s also a lot of references to dreams. As quoted above, no Englishman would dream of giving up their life of power and prestige, but to Purun Dass, his whole life thus far has been “a colorless dream of the night” and he has his own dream for the future, a “dream of peace and quiet.” By leaving his life as Prime Minister, he hopes to “make that dream come true.”
In the end, do you think Purun Dass/Puran Bhagat achieves his dream? DISCUSS.
A list of Puran’s friends:
“A Song of Kabir”
My footnotes tell me that this song is written by Kipling (I mean, obviously) but it is inspired by the work of a philosopher-poet and mystic named Kabir. Kabir didn’t like the caste system either. You can read up on him here. It’s interesting that Kabir criticized both Islam and Hinduism, but they both loved him. Maybe similar to the way Puran Bhagat is part of both the western and Indian worlds but he isn’t a huge fan of either system?
Anyway this song is kind of weird and I don’t know where it came from or where it’s going to, but it sounds like Puran Bhagat would probably get along with Kabir.
“Letting in the Jungle”
“Justice” is a big topic of conversation in this story. Who decides what justice is? Who enforces it? The villagers try to mete out justice on Mowgli in absentia and on Messua and her husband. They’re afraid of the English, because English justice is stronger and “madder,” apparently. However, Mowgli takes justice into his own hands because he feels he is a) the best informed of the villagers and beasts and b) the most powerful of the villagers and beasts (Mowgli has a very high opinion of himself).
Mowgli takes command of the wolves, when they want to kill the humans instead of drive them out; he takes command of Bagheera, who is going a little mad with jungle-fever; he takes command of Messua and her husband, sending them away to safety; he takes command of Hathi, ordering him to use his influence to “let the jungle in” and destroy the village so that the villagers will never return. Mowgli’s kinda dark, but also has a lot of initiative and overall drive. I admire that.
Mowgli feels morally superior to the humans, especially, who he considers the same as the bandar-log, and judges them for the fact that they trap and kill each other. I mean, that’s fair. But does Mowgli take his personal opinions a little far when he decides to destroy entire villages? DISCUSS.
The story is called “letting in the jungle,” and there are a lot of implications that the jungle itself is raining judgment down on the unjust humans who try to live in it. But Mowgli is the one displaying agency and making choices. So. I’m not sure if the jungle is all it’s cracked up to be.
“Mowgli’s Song Against People”
Mowgli has a lot of feelings 100% of the time and he needs to express them via song. I like the repetition of “and the snake shall be your watchman/and the wolf shall be your herdsman/ and the deer shall be your oxen” to show that the jungle is replacing all of the domestic creatures with its own versions.
A crocodile, a crane, and a jackal walk into a bar.
I don’t know where that joke was going but I think it’s promising.
This story is chock-full of extremely dark humor and I spent a lot of time laughing while saying “That’s terrible!” and then feeling bad for laughing. Because it’s terrible.
Although, you know you’ve been reading The Jungle Books too much when you start judging fictional animals by Mowgli’s moral code. Like….the crocodile is horrible not because he eats people but because, specifically, killing humans is taboo. The crane is terrible because he’s a scavenger, not a proper hunter. The jackal is terrible because he profits off of others’ kills. Etc.
Example of terrible humor that pleases me greatly:
Jackal: “But men are all alike, to my mind.” (meaning: referring to their character; they’re all faithless and big jerks and PS probably have tried to kill me a few times.)
Crocodile: “Nay, there are very great differences indeed. Some are as lean as boat-poles. Others again are fat as young ja–dogs.” (meaning: their bodies are all shapes and sizes and some are better to eat than others. PS I eat jackals sometimes but we don’t need to talk about that right now.)
This story has a very sneaky plot (the story of the man-eating crocodile and the tiny white boy who grows into a huge white man and kills it) that is threaded through the conversation between three “predator” animals discussing the best things to eat, the best ways to get fed, and the best ways thrive in the jungle.
There’s tension (a lot of tension) between the three interlocutors, but especially between the crocodile and the jackal. The jackal, we are told, is also “low-caste” and less powerful than the others, so his conversational ploys are more subtle, relying on flattery and undertones. He doesn’t dare to take offense at the crane, because “you cannot resent an insult from a person with a beak a yard long, and power of driving it like a javelin.” You get the impression that the crocodile usually doesn’t eat jackals, but it’s not above it if the opportunity comes along. There was a bit in there where the crocodile claimed blood-kinship with the jackal, the implication being that the only way a crocodile would have blood shared with a jackal would be if the crocodile had eaten a jackal. Eek. The jackal can occasionally hold his own, though, with clever double-meanings and under-handed jabs at the crocodile’s eating habits.
The crocodile has definitely been around the block, though. He has wise things like this to say: “With good luck, a keen eye, and the custom of considering whether a creek or a backwater has an outlet to it ere you ascend, much may be done.”
As for the humans, they seem to be divided between the native villagers, who fear, worship, and are often eaten by the crocodile, and the whites, who fight back (e.g. the white woman who injures him, and the white man who kills the crocodile at the end). I mean….This is a pretty heavy-handed dividing line, and I don’t like it. More on this below, after the song.
“A Ripple Song”
This is actually….really dark. And not in a fun way. A screaming way.
Some tie-in comments on these stories:
All three of these stories feature jungle power, whether in the form of a landslide, the jungle itself and its animals, or the “undertakers” of the jungle (the predators). However, English people/English power is the strongest in all three stories, and I find this weird for a book about the jungle. Even Puran Bhagat feels he has to reclaim his powers of Purun Dass in order to “save life” , i.e. to save the villagers. True, the villagers follow their bhagat because they know and trust him, but he doesn’t have the ability to lead unless he seizes on his old, western training. In “Letting in The Jungle,” Messua and her husband have to run to the English to escape the villagers, and the villagers themselves fear English justice (although not enough to try to circumvent it). In “The Undertakers,” it is the white man with the gun who takes out the crocodile, none of the villagers who have been suffering from it for so long. I don’t know, these stories are a hot mess. Mowgli is a great character, but even though he’s Indian he holds other native Indians in contempt, finding them superstitious, greedy, and cowardly.