John Lockwood Kipling, and his wife Alice, moved to India from England to serve as a professor of sculpture. He was appointed principal of the Mayo School of Art during the British occupation in India. He toured the country producing hand drawn sketches of tradesmen, animals, and the countryside. Within the first year that he and his wife lived in India, they welcomed their first child, Rudyard, born in December, 1865.
Rudyard Kipling would later grow to become the celebrated author of The Jungle Book (1894), the story of a feral child raised in the jungles of what is believed to be Seoni, Madhya Pradesh, India.
This beloved tale of a child born into a non-native environment and raised by wolves as one of their own serves as a metaphor for Kipling's own upbringing as a non-native son of India. His writing cleverly used his characters as literary tools to reflect the emotions of his protagonist, Mowgli (originally pronounced Mao-glee). For instance, his story includes the tale of the "bandar log" or monkey tribe, who forever carry on with an arrogant haughtiness of their self-perceived superiority over the other jungle animals due to their ability to mimic "man" and always talk of big plans, yet fail to act upon them only to start all over with their meaningless chatter, "We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true." Here Kipling is able to write literary jabs at people who believe in their own 'superior heritage', while relying on their own collective story for validation instead of being content to be members of the entire community.
Kipling's genius is that he is able to weave tales of morality into simple stories that children can understand and remember as they mature (similar to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter ,1997). His blending of poetry and jungle lore help to immerse the reader into another world, one where humans can live side by side with animals and even communicate.
The story begins with the discovery of an infant child presented at the footsteps of a wolf den by Bagheera, a benevolent black panther. The "man-cub" was discovered after Shere Khan, a man-eating tiger, had been heard hunting humans nearby. The tiger howled as he was burned by man's fire, but managed to scare Mowgli's parents away. Before Shere Khan could find his quarry the vigilant panther was able to intercept and bring the innocent child to safety.
The seemingly happy child is then discovered by Father Wolf who gently brings him into the wolf den to show Mother Wolf, Raksha. The man-cub does not fear the other animals, and instead laughs at their sniffing curiosity.
“How little! How naked, and — how bold!” said Mother Wolf softly. The baby was pushing his way between the cubs to get close to the warm hide. “Ahai! He is taking his meal with the others. And so this is a man’s cub. Now, was there ever a wolf that could boast of a man’s cub among her children?”
Raksha decides to adopt and raise "Mowgli" a name which fictitiously means "little frog" due to his smooth fur-less skin.
The story details how Mowgli became a member of the Seeonee wolves and how they are a free people who are not subject to the bullying of predators like Shere Khan, but rather exist within a democracy and follow the laws of the jungle. The pack is led by their Alpha Wolf, Akela, who allows Mowgli to join the Seeonee if he is spoken for by at least two members (not including his parents), and so Baloo, "a lazy brown bear of whom the wolves allowed to come and go as he pleases since he only eats roots, nuts, and honey" spoke first for the man-cub. Second, although he acknowledged that he did not belong the the pack, Bagheera referenced the jungle law where the life of the man-cub could be bought with a price, in which case the panther had exchanged the life of a bull he had freshly killed. The hungry wolves agree to this bargain and inspect the man-cub as one of their own. Shere Khan is enraged by this decision and vows in time to kill the boy.
Mowgli learns to speak and understand the animals. He knows that he is different but feels that his heart belongs among his brothers and sisters in the jungle. He is raised by his adopted wolf family and grows strong with them as he hunts, plays, and adventures.
The antagonist of the story, Shere Khan, is a cunning hunter who has a ferocious reputation of killing for sport. He is hinted at murdering men from a nearby village and is responsible for Mowgli's appearance in the jungle. Since then, Shere Khan has been trying to kill Mowgli, who is protected by the pack, and harbors great animosity toward him and mankind. (Kipling cleverly includes a fable of how the tiger got his stripes from the early days of creation with the Elephant lords of the jungle, which explains the hunter's nature).
Through political maneuvering, Khan is able to influence the tribe to cast Mowgli into exile as he doesn't "truly" belong to the the wolf pack. Some of the wolves are threatened by Mowgli as he possesses a stare that causes every animal to look away. Disheartened by the arguing, Mowgli goes to live in the nearby human village. There, he finds comfort and care from a woman, Messua, who lost her own child to a man-eating tiger. His human mother (most likely his real parent) helps to integrate Mowgli into the village and to life among humans, even though he prefers to sleep outside under the stars unconfined by the walls of a roofed dwelling. Mowgli tells Gray Brother, "I will always remember that I love thee and all in our cave. But also I will always remember that I have been cast out of the Pack." Mowgli tries to fit in, but simply finds that life with these humans to be too strange and different from the jungle. The humans are superstitious, proud, and can be cruel, not unlike the monkey people, "and Mowgli had not the faintest idea of the difference that caste makes between man and man."
He frequently visits his wolf family as they also come to visit him. Eventually Mowgli learns the language of the villagers and overhears one of the hunters, Buldeo, telling an exaggerated tale of his adventures in the jungle; whereupon, Mowgli begins to laugh. Buldeo is embarrassed and angered by the "jungle-brat" who dares to laugh at a village elder.
The villagers tease and fear Mowgli as he learns their culture; however, they attribute his mysterious ability to communicate with animals to witchcraft or sorcery. While still a boy, "Mowgli did not know his own strength in the least. In the jungle he knew he was weak compared with the beasts, but in the village people said that he was as strong as a bull" and preferred the work of tending the village cattle. Once, while watching over the herd, Mowgli is visited by Gray Brother, who warns Mowgli of Shere Khan's impending plot to attack. Mowgli devises a plan to ensnare the tiger in a ravine and causes a stampede to trample him.
Once Shere Khan is dead, Mowgli sets to skinning his hide. Buldeo sees the jungle prince in the act and comes to claim the bounty; however, Mowgli has had enough of his bullying and subdues him under the threat of attack from Gray Brother and Akela. Word reaches the village that Mowgli has killed a full grown tiger and the villagers begin to fear and throw rocks at him. They are scared of his ability to command animals and kick him out of the village while Mowgli responds, “Again? Last time it was because I was a man. This time it is because I am a wolf. Let us go."
My mouth is bleeding. Let me run away.
Through the night, through the hot night, run swiftly with me, my brothers. We will leave the lights of the village and go to the low moon.
Waters of the Waingunga, the Man-Pack have cast me out. I did them no harm, but they were afraid of me. Why?
Wolf Pack, ye have cast me out too. The jungle is shut to me and the village gates are shut. Why?
As Mang flies between the beasts and birds, so fly I between the village and the jungle. Why?
I dance on the hide of Shere Khan, but my heart is very heavy. My mouth is cut and wounded with the stones from the village, but my heart is very light, because I have come back to the jungle. Why?
These two things fight together in me as the snakes fight in the spring. The water comes out of my eyes; yet I laugh while it falls. Why?
I am two Mowglis, but the hide of Shere Khan is under my feet.
All the jungle knows that I have killed Shere Khan. Look — look well, O Wolves!
Ahae! My heart is heavy with the things that I do not understand.
A bleeding wolf from another pack stumbles into the Seeonee and announces that his mate and pups were killed by the Dhole and warns the pack of the approaching danger.
The Dhole are fierce hunting dogs up to 200 in a pack who trample and tear apart everything in their path that even Shere Khan and the elephants would avoid them. The wolf pack had to decide whether to hide and let the dhole hunt on their grounds or stay and fight the terrorizing mass.
The Dhole unleashed their terror upon the inhabitants of the jungle and Mowgli sought help from the most wise rock python, Kaa. After meditating nearly a day, Kaa developed a brilliant plan to thin the herd of red dhole making them a fair fight for the Seeonee pack. Mowgli then set out to engage the dhole; cutting off their leader's tail and leading them on a blood thirsty hunt. Mowgli danced over the tree tops and guided the dogs towards the bee caves where he kicked boulders to awaken the wrath of the wild bees just before jumping into the gushing river below where Kaa was there to pull him to safety. Many of the dhole were killed by the bees or "little people" and many more are drowned as they jump into the river. As the dhole are weakening in numbers the Seeonee pack waits for them downstream ready to finish off the remaining dogs.
During the battle, Akela is injured and before dying he tells Mowgli, “Thou art a man, Little Brother, wolfling of my watching. Thou art a man, or else the Pack had fled before the dhole. My life I owe to thee, and today thou hast saved the Pack even as once I saved thee. Hast thou forgotten? All debts are paid now. Go to thine own people. I tell thee again, eye of my eye, this hunting is ended. Go to thine own people.” Mowgli refuses claiming, “Nay, nay, I am a wolf. I am of one skin with the Free People,” Mowgli cried. “It is no will of mine that I am a man.” and that he will stay in the jungle and hunt alone. But as Akela and Bagheera had warned him of this day, Mowgli must decide his fate.
Nearly two years after the dhole, Mowgli is sitting with Bagheera and notes the changing of seasons and how spring marks the time of 'New Talk' where all the animals began "practicing their songs" different from any other time in the jungle. It is when new life grows in the jungle and all its inhabitants frolic, play, and fight. Mowgli is angry at how all the animals have deserted him during the time of new talk, even though "I am the Master of the Jungle!" He scolds Bagheera, "I shall know when the Time of New Talk is here, because then thou and the others all run away and leave me alone.”
Mowgli struggles to understand why the animals in the jungle behave this way when he begins to feel sick. “I have eaten good food,” he said to himself. “I have drunk good water. Nor does my throat burn and grow small, as it did when I bit the blue-spotted root that Oo the Turtle said was clean food. But my stomach is heavy, and I have given very bad talk to Bagheera and others, people of the Jungle and my people. Now, too, I am hot and now I am cold, and now I am neither hot nor cold, but angry with that which I cannot see."
Mowgli decides to run the length of the jungle and calls to his wolf brothers, who do not answer. This leaves him feeling most alone and so he runs by himself. He runs for miles until he reaches the new village where his mother lives. He hears her voice and calls on her door. "As he stood in the red light of the oil-lamp, strong, tall, and beautiful, his long black hair sweeping over his shoulders, the knife swinging at his neck, and his head crowned with a wreath of white jasmine, he might easily have been mistaken for some wild god of a jungle legend." His mother is astonished, and invites him inside her house. She hugs him and cannot believe how beautiful he has grown and that she is unsure of whether he is actually her lost son, Nathoo, or "some forest god". She feeds him and tells him that he is always welcome before Gray Brother paws at the door.
Mowgli returns to the council rock sullen and confused by his emotions. There he is greeted by an aged Baloo, who can barely see, and Kaa the wise rock python, and finally, Bagheera, who has just slain another bull with which to free Mowgli from the Seeone. Baloo speaks, "I taught thee the Law. It is for me to speak,” he said; “and, though I cannot now see the rocks before me, I see far. Little Frog, take thine own trail; make thy lair with thine own blood and pack and people; but when there is need of foot or tooth or eye, or a word carried swiftly by night, remember, Master of the Jungle, the Jungle is thine at call.” Mowgli takes comfort knowing that this time it is not the Jungle that casts him out, but rather this desire wells from within Mowgli himself. Each of them tenderly wish him well and lovingly send him off on his new path.
Kipling ends the Jungle Book here, but includes a way to re-open his story at any time. His work mirrors his own emotions and he brilliantly weaves his message into a vivid dream-like reality. I believe that message to be one of inclusion and acceptance not on society's terms but on one's own. The pack will continue to do what the pack does, but as long as our loved ones exist, we are not alone and will always be welcomed and accepted by them. The Panther, a Bear, a Python, and a Wolf all serve as the metaphoric families we create for ourselves who help us survive and fight for our right to exist. Membership into a tribe or race does not guarantee love, loyalty, care, or happiness. Inclusion and compassion from those strong enough to see beyond race, caste, creed (or species) is the antidote to society's ignorance. In the end, Mowgli is welcomed and accepted by both the Jungle and Man as long as he has people who love him regardless of tribe.
“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti