‘The Amir’s Homily’ by Rudyard Kipling: Short Story Analysis
‘The Amir’s Homily’ is penned by Rudyard Kipling in his typical ‘the white man’s burden’ style, painting a very oriental side to life in Afghanistan under the reign of His royal highness Abdur Rahman, the Amir of Afghanistan. But Abdur Rahman, known as the ‘Iron Amir’ of Afghanistan, may have also through his tough stance on all things political and military fueled the imagination of Rudyard Kipling to write this piece. Abdur Rahman was Amir of Afghanistan in the latter part of the 19th century and Rudyard Kipling refers to him here in this short story. The story is basically about a poor man who has stolen a measly sum of Rupees three and who is going to be given a homily of the Amir’s own rough life before he would, as the law stated, be punished accordingly. The short story brings out the historical significance of the Amir, how westerners perceived him, and how deadly were the laws of the Afghan land.
The story is meant to shock a westerner’s mind, certain descriptions are blown out of proportion, but this was common in the literature of European writers who wished to pen their stories, essays, sketches, etc., about the Indian sub-continent. Rudyard Kipling has indicated in this story the Afghan stereotype among western white readers especially in the very first paragraph of the short story, ‘The Amir’s Homily’. The reference to the Queen of England being the ‘Empress of India’ indicates that the story is set in the latter half of the 19th century after the Revolt of 1857. The reader is struck in the face with the descriptions mentioned in the story. I for one want to dwell on the positive so the line where it is believed that we Asians in the 19th century felt that ‘fear of death’ as it were ‘the beginning of wisdom’ reminds me of the fact that even in the Wisdom books of the Bible, there is always the constant mention of ‘The Fear of God’ being the true sign of wisdom in a person, indicative of our mortality. The story says that the Amir was worse than his Commander-in-chief and Governor, the author thereby finalizing that no one can hoodwink this Amir. Yet with all the negativity, Rudyard Kipling also mentions that when his highness Abdur Rahman was reigning in Afghanistan, it seemed like the Golden age of Afghanistan as was the golden age of Islam during the time of Harun Al Rashid. The poor man who steals his Rupees three is brought before the Amir in this story; note how the thief seems more Christ like than the Amir which is brought out subtly by Rudyard Kipling. The Amir narrates a time when he was poor and when a clerk helped him out with some money. The Amir is very clear, the thief should have begged or found work, but under no circumstances was he permitted to rob – thus closing the door on his face, as well as, on the face of mercy, compassion and empathy. It would appear to a literary student that it is obvious that rather than punishing the thief, the Amir should have empathized with him, since the Amir was once reduced to penury himself. What was the use of giving a homily or sermon on his past and ridiculing the poor man? Or, we can look at it from another perspective. We can state that if the Amir even in times of penury did not take recourse to stealing then his subjects should not also. This is quite indicative of the Christ like discourses on Jesus’ actions and how His disciples are to follow suit. The story ends with the words ‘Dar Arid’ which in Islamic law means that the sin remains on the sinner. It also ends on the note that mercy and compassion should have been more benevolent than the dreaded sentence of ‘Dar Arid’.
This is definitely a very biased way of looking at the Afghan Amir, but it is an equally worthwhile read to understand the mind of Orientalists and their idea of what Asia, especially India was like in the 19th century. I like that part about the wife wanting a divorce from the bald husband is told by the Amir to pour curds on his bald head and lick it up. It shows how insensitive the needs of woman were to men be they Europeans or Asians, and how frivolous their queries seemed to be. Was this inserted by Rudyard Kipling to add humor to the tale? It certainly does call for some more deep analysis. All in all, Rudyard Kipling’s story titled ‘The Amir’s Homily’ brings us more comprehensive proof of his thought processes.
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