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Rudyard Kipling, a Parsi and His Fantasy Tale of the Rhinocerous

An Air Warrior and devotee of Lord Krishna has published over 120 short stories and 15 books on fiction and 4 on military history.



Let me first introduce people to the Parsi community of India. I have had a close connection with this community and many of my close friends are Parsi's. They were the original inhabitants of Iran and follow the Zoarster religion. When Iran was conquered by Islam the Parsis could not practice their religion and thousands of them escaped to India which is now their home.

Rudyard Kipling is a well-known poet-writer of the days of the Raj. He was born in India in Mumbai and many of his books mirror India in all its fascinating colors. Many now consider him a racist but it does not detract from the fact that he was one of the towering figures in English literature and his theme was always India. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1907.


Kipling's Tale

Rudyard Kipling, I believe had a long association with Parsis. This has been recorded by Harry Ricketts, the biographer of Rudyard Kipling. Rudyard Kipling was born in one of the bungalows occupied by the dean of the Sir JJ School Of Art. One of the earliest memories of Kipling was watching Parsis wading into the ocean and praying to the rising sun with the coconuts trees swaying in the background.

When Kipling was growing up he observed a Parsi named Bomanjee. incidentally, Bomanjee was the only Parsi student at the JJ School of Art. Bomanjee and Kipling had many friendly encounters and these inspired Rudyard to write some exciting stories. One of these was titled ‘How the Rhinoceros got his Wrinkly Skin’. Rudyard narrated the story to his daughter Josephine when she was going to bed.

Kipling's story was inspired by his encounters with Bomanjee. He relates a tale of a Parsi who lived ‘on an uninhabited island on the shores of the Red Sea. This was a lonely island inhabited only by another rhinoceros. Kipling further gives an imaginary description of the Parsi by stating that he lived in great splendor and wore a conical hat that reflected the splendor of the sun

Kipling relates that a rhinoceros who lived on the island was feeling hungry. He suddenly invaded the home of the Parsi. What did the beast do? He ate up all the freshly baked cakes of the Parsi. The Parsi was a nice man but he decided to teach the rhinoceros a lesson. Kipling gives an excellent account of the way the clever Parsi took revenge on the beast.

Kipling relates this in a verse that has become famous.

Them that takes cakes

Which the Parsee-man bakes

Makes dreadful mistakes.

The Parsi made a plan and enticed the Rhino to take off his skin and wade into the ocean to cool himself. When the Rhino was splashing in the ocean, the clever Parsi applied crumbs all over the skin and when the beast came back and put on the skin he felt itchy. He scratched and scratched and soon the skin became thick folds and the Rhino could do nothing. That's how the rhinoceros got his wrinkly skin. It's a lovely tale but it was inspired by the Parsi Bomanjee.

Home where Kipling was born now a museum in Mumbai

Home where Kipling was born now a museum in Mumbai


The 1955 edition of Just so Stories For Little Children, carries a confirmation by Kipling that the Parsee Pestonjee Bomonjee sitting in his palm tree... wearing a new hat that reflected the rays of the sun was similar to the sort of hats that Parsees wore and was based on the real character he knew.
Just for the record, Bomanjee took up painting under John Griffiths who taught him the nuances of European portrait painting, and Kipling of course became a famous writer and won the Nobel prize for literature.

Kipling is famous for many other books with the background of India including the famous character Mowgli and Kim.

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MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 20, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela, for sparing time and commenting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 20, 2021:

John, nice of you to have commented. Yes Freddy Mercury, real name Farrokh Bulsara was a Parsi. Sad he died young at the age of 45 in 1991.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 20, 2021:

I enjoyed reading this tale, MG. Kipling has always been an inspiration to me. I have a copy of ‘Just So Stories’ one of the favourite books from my childhood.

If I am correct wasn’t Freddy Mercury from Queen also Parsi?

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 20, 2021:

I hadn't read the story of the rhinoceros and the Parsi. I have read some of Rudyard Kipling's work, but I learned a lot from your excellent article MG. Thank you for sharing this information.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 20, 2021:

Thanks, Devika, nice you commented.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 20, 2021:

Denise, so glad you commented

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 20, 2021:

emge You certainly got me interested in this hub topic. Rudyard Kipling sounds a great writer.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

How interesting. I love fairy tales and folk tales, as you probably know. I never heard of this one. Thanks.



MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 20, 2021:

Tom, yes he was a racist. I remember he talked up the 'white man's burden' but all the same he was a very good writer. I shall be writing about my experience in Trivandrum soon. It was a short but beautiful tenure.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 20, 2021:

Thanks, LIZ, yes Rudyard was a great observer of humans and he translated into lovely stories.

Liz Westwood from UK on May 20, 2021:

This article gives an interesting insight into the background of Rudyard Kipling.

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