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THE NAULAHKA - A STORY OF WEST AND EAST (1892) by Rudyard Kipling and Wolcott Balestier

1892 novel of two Coloradans adventuring in India.

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"A Fool Lies Here who tried to hustle the East"

  • Apr 9, 2012

Sometime around 1890 tiny 23-year old Miss Kate Sheriff of Topaz, Colorado travelled 14,000 miles from home as a medical missionary. 28-year old handsome, rangy, mustachioed Nicholas "Nick" Tarvin, also of Topaz, wanted to marry Kate more (almost) than he wanted to make Topaz the economic hub of the West or to propel himself to become Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives. Kate had told Nick that her destination for the rest of her life was "Rhatore, in the Province of Gokral Seetarum, Rajuputana, India" (Ch. 1). Now Nick distinctly did not want his beloved to devote her life to helping benighted, oppressed women in India when she could stay in Colorado, marry Nick and devote her life to him.


As early as Chapter 5, when Nick beats an unsuspecting Kate to Rhatore by a week or two, it is clear what one theme in the 1892 novel THE NAULAHKA will be. The novel's subtitle had earlier given us a hint: A STORY OF WEST AND EAST. Topaz, Colorado is West and Rhatore, Rajputana is East. And THE NAULAHKA is cross-cultural to the max.  Two young Coloradans named Kate and Nick, red-blooded Americans both, for vastly different motives, using dissimilar means and with distinctive ends in view are out, to change the East for the better, to make it modern, more like the USA. 


In his epigram preceding Chapter 5, co-author Rudyard Kipling focuses on one of many cultural variances between East and West: doing things slowly v. doing things fast. The word describing the American way to getting things done is the ambiguous "hustle," as in


"Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the Aryan brown,

For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the Christian down;

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the  late  deceased,

And the epitaph drear:  'A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.'" 


Nicholas Tarvin is introduced in the first four chapters (co-written primarily by Kipling's best friend Charles Wolcott Balestier (1861 - 1891) as a "booster," a promoter of Topaz, Colorado. He wants to persuade the Colorado California Central (CCC) Railroad to add to an existing east-west line a north-south route to bring Topaz's mineral wealth to the Gulf of Mexico. When he finds that Jim Mutrie the CCC's 50-year old President has a beautiful 25-year old wife who will do anything to acquire exquisite jewelry, a light goes off in Nick's imagination. He then reasons more or less this way:


-- Nick cannot stop Kate from going to India. Neither can she stop him from following her, especially if she in unaware that he will.


-- Together in church they had heard a missionary tell of the fabulously expensive, centuries old necklace, the Naulakha (literally "the 900,000") which by coincidence is possessed by the Maharajah of Gokral Seetarum, Rajuputana where Kate is going to join the tiny Presbyterian Mission.


-- Nick therefore will go to the Maharajah's city of Rhatore, trade, if he can, lots in Topaz for the Naulahka, and give the Naulahka to Mrs Mutrie whom he persuades to induce her compliant husband to make Topaz a major center for the CCC.


Nick, that is, will "hustle" the East in a different way from Kate's. She modernizes the women and children's wards of the Maharajah's hospital and is idolized by the poor desert women of Rajputana.


For his part, Nick becomes a card-playing, coin-shooting companion of the Maharajah and both Nick and Kate befriend the young, endangered heir-apparent. Unfortunately, in the process they alienate big-time gorgeous Sitabhai, the Maharajah's latest, low-born, young gypsy wife (of 300), who is poisoning the heir-apparent so that her son will succeed to the throne.

Adventures abound, worthy of young Indiana Jones and better than youthful Sinclair Lewis's HIKE AND THE AEROPLANE (1912), as Nick searches for the Naulahka in a City of the Dead, avoids assassination by Sitabhai and slowly comes to realize that he loves Kate even more than Topaz or a career in the Colorado legislature. Meanwhile, even while absent in India. Republican Nick had crushed Kate's Democratic Party father in the Colorado general elections.


In the end things turn out reasonably well for both Nick, Kate and the wicked Sitabhai who had managed to shut down the women's clinic. Colorado had tried to ustle the British Raj's Rajputana and failed. But perhaps Kate was never cut out to hustle any but fellow Americans.

THE NAULAHKA is not highly regarded by scholars. It was one of Rudyard Kipling's very few novels (the best being KIM) and is a rare example of collaborative writing. Co-author Balestier (weeks after his death at 30 Kipling married Charlotte Balestier, his sister) died in December 1891 at age 30 of typhoid fever just after the fourth of nine monthly maazine issues of  THE NAULAHKA had appeared. From then on, revisions, preparations for hardback book publication, writing of the chapter epigrams and all else were in the hands of Kipling. 




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April 09, 2012
Good review !
April 09, 2012
Thank you. In a different review I located Kipling-Balestier's THE NAULAHKA as among forerunners of a non-favorite genre of mine -- the immensely popular "Christian Romance Novel." This book grows on you as you keep on reading it. Contemporaries compared it to KING SOLOMON'S MINES by Kipling's friend H. Rider Haggard.
April 09, 2012
I read King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard. The book was excellent.
Quick Tip by . April 05, 2012
Imagine a young Colorado woman going as a medical missionary to native women in a western Indian desert. See her politician-entrepreneur boy friend following her there to a maharajah's court, having promised another Colorado woman to bring her a fabulous set of jewelry if she will persuade her husband to make fictional Topaz, Colorado a railroad hub. West meets East and neither will ever be the same.
About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #94
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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