Monday 18 July 2022

One for the Heatwave...

'The heat has come down handsomely upon Lahore: the temperature, even in a room fanned by a punkah, is 95°F and an ill omened pillar of dust is skirmishing outside under an orange coloured sky. The clouds are so low down and so metallic in appearance that one feels as if they could be rapped with the knuckles, and if this were done they would ring like saucepans...' 
That's the teenage Rudyard Kipling writing home to his mother and sister from the scorching summer heat of Lahore (then in India, now in Pakistan). Already the assistant editor of the Civil & Military Gazette, Kipling was left holding the fort while most of his colleagues had decamped to the cool hill country for the summer. Suffering from night terrors and an entirely reasonable fear of cholera, young Rudyard found it all but impossible to sleep, so took to wandering the streets of the Old City at night. This was an unthinkable thing for a respectable white man to do, but it brought him into intimate contact with Indian street life – loud, colourful, chaotic, sometimes menacing – and furnished him with much material not only for his newspaper but for the short stories he was already writing (and, especially, Kim). Those nocturnal wanderings, like the epic night walks of Dickens through London, seem to have done much to fire his creative imagination. In the course of them the teenage Kipling also habitually availed himself of Lahore's prostitutes, and discovered the pleasures of opium and hashish – all apparently without a qualm. The heat can do strange things to a man... 
Incidentally, the drink that got the British through all that Indian heat was weak whisky and soda, the 'chota peg'. Churchill carried on drinking it through most of his life. Cheers!


  1. Having lived my life where summer temperatures often reach 95 F, I suspect that youth will do stranger things to a man than high temperatures.

  2. One is reminded immediately of Kipling's great, great story of heat, "At the End of the Passage."

    Dale Nelson

  3. Yes indeed, Wurmbrand – and the lines that preface it –
    The sky is lead and our faces are red,
    And the gates of Hell are opened and riven,
    And the winds of Hell are loosened and driven,
    And the dust flies up in the face of Heaven,
    And the clouds come down in a fiery sheet,
    Heavy to raise and hard to be borne.
    And the soul of man is turned from his meat,
    Turned from the trifles for which he has striven
    Sick in his body, and heavy hearted,
    And his soul flies up like the dust in the sheet
    Breaks from his flesh and is gone and departed,
    As the blasts they blow on the cholera-horn.'

    A great and terrible story...