India the marvelous - Maddy's Ramblings

Jul 17, 2008

India the marvelous

I can conclude now that it was fate and Rudyard Kipling which brought Samuel L Clemens, AKA Mark Twain to India, and as I am bound to explain my comment, I shall do so with gusto….

Let us first look at ‘fate’ aspect - Twain even though famous through his books, went virtually bankrupt by 1895 and was deeply depressed due to the death of his daughter Suzy. In order to climb out of the morass, he decided to take on a world tour; reading and lecturing with the promise to his creditors that he would pay them back every cent he owed. This tour was to cover Australia, New Zealand, India, Ceylon and South Africa and end in Britain.

The second was due to Twain meeting Kipling some years earlie
r. Kipling was a big fan of Twain and when he visited USA in 1889 ensured that they met and talked amongst other issues, mutual problems with publishers. The fascinating interview is recorded here for those interested, needless to conclude that Kipling considered himself much the richer after meeting this bankrupt writer. Their relationship was quite interesting to say the least. Twain thought that the ‘Jungle books’ were far superior to his ‘Tom Sawyer books’ and Kipling thought vice versa, each believing and publicly stating that they wished they had authored the other. Twain had this to say about Kipling - I am not fond of all poetry, but there's something in Kipling that appeals to me. I guess he's just about my level. He is a stranger to me, but he is a most remarkable man--and I am the other one. Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest. However, somewhere along the way their relationship did sour…

Twain cleared his debts within three years, and his cash flow became green once again following the successful tour and his publishing the great travelogue ‘Following the Equator’ which detailed his experiences. The book went on to cover his visit to India and other places and the prose that he used to describe India is unrivaled
in many ways, considering that it was a period when British strong hold on India and print publishing was as tight as one can imagine. It is simply a pleasure to read the book, so if you have not, head to the nearest book shop or library.

But why did T
wain become indebted? He used to get involved with supporting all kinds of inventors and inventions, and was a holder of a few successful patents himself. On top of all that, many of his earlier literary works were plagiarized and he got little revenue from them.

And thus he set off on August 13, 1895, aged 59, to cl
ear his name and accounts. Before he started, he told the press this (CHAPTER CXCI of AB Paine biography) It has been reported that I sacrificed for the benefit of the creditors the property of the publishing firm whose financial backer I was and that I am now lecturing for my own benefit. This is an error. I intend the lectures as well as the property for the creditors. The law recognizes no mortgage on a man’s brain, and a merchant who has given up all he has may take advantage of the laws of insolvency and start free again for himself…………

And he wrote to R Kipling thus -It is reported that you are about to visit India. This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago you came from India to Elmira to visit me, as you said at the time. It has always been my purpose to return that visit & that great compliment some day. I shall arrive next January & you must be ready…..

But Twain and Kipling did not meet again for as Twain left for India, Kipling was working on his second Jungle book in USA, after settling down with his American wife and losing his fortune (Like Twain!) in Canada. Kipling later moved to Sussex in England in 1896 and never again visited India (last visit in 1891). Twain had initially heard that Kipling was heading back to India and hence the starting line – It is reported….

Twain said upon arrival in Bombay that if he had to find fault with Kipling, it would be on the inaccurate representation of Indian matters by Kipling. Kipling was consistently pro-Empire and supported the Victorian blend of imperialism, believing that the Brits weren't subjugating people but instead educating and civilizing the Indian hordes, and that the British were missionaries, whereas Twain believed that he himself was an anti imperialist and an anti racist and
thus at odds with Kipling’s ideology.. Though they respected each other immensely, their political views and positioning were shores apart. Kipling incidentally received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, while Twain was still living

Following the Equator

‘Following The Equator’ is an account of Mark Twain's round-the-world lecture tour of 1895/96. The book opens in Paris and midway through it reaches Bombay

A synopsis by Michael Waisman - - The first stop in India is Bombay, which Twain finds to be a fabulous city of great contradictions: great wealth and extreme poverty, ornate palaces and ramshackle hovels. Twain gives a lengthy description of his interesting experiences while taking in Bombay, including a religious ceremony, the wedding of a 12-year-old girl, and a murder trial. The party takes the train to Baroda, where Twain rides an elephant. A longer train ride to Allahabad - the City of God - follows, where a religious ceremony is being held. Next stop is Benares, an important religious center, where they take a cruise on the Ganges. The journey through India continues, with stops in Calcutta, Darjeeling, and numerous other cities. At this point, Twain relates the history of the Great Mutiny of 1857, in which the Indian people revolted against the British.

After ten days of sightseeing and three lecture appearances in Bombay, the Clemenses began an extended tour of Indian cities which took them twelve hundred miles by train across the country to Calcutta, then north to Darjeeling, Delhi, and Lahore, and back again to Calcutta.

They all found the country fascinating. Twain wrote in Following the Equator that the Indians were "the most interesting people in the world—and the nearest to being incomprehensible . . . Their character and their history, their customs and their religion, confront you with riddles at every turn—riddles which are a trifle more perplexing after they are explained than they were before."

Upon leaving India, the party heads for Durban and proceeds through other countries to Britain.

"Following the Equator" is dedicated to Twain’s benefactor’s son. "This book is affectionately inscribed to my young friend Harry Rogers (Son of HH Rogers), with recognition of what he is, and apprehension of what he may become unless he form himself a little more closely upon the model of The Author."

But how can you not like this man?

Without much ado I will provide here some of Twain’s oft quoted impressions on India with the suggestion that you read the book to enjoy those that have not been quoted.

This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.

India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.

"India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only."
In India, 'cold weather' is merely a conventional phrase and has come into use through the necessity of having some way to distinguish between weather which will melt a brass door-knob and weather which will only make it mushy. India had the start of the whole world in the beginning of things. She had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of material wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellects; she had mines, and woods, and a fruitful soil. It would seem as if she should have kept the lead, and should be to-day not the meek dependent of an alien master, but mistress of the world, and delivering law and command to every tribe and nation in it. But, in truth, there was never any possibility of such supremacy for her. If there had been but one India and one language--but there were eighty of them! Where there are eighty nations and several hundred governments, fighting and quarreling must be the common business of life; unity of purpose and policy are impossible; out of such elements supremacy in
the world cannot come. Even caste itself could have had the defeating effect of a multiplicity of tongues, no doubt; for it separates a people into layers, and layers, and still other layers, that have no community of feeling with each other; and in such a condition of things as that, patriotism can have no healthy growth.

The Indian crow was a favorite subject in the book - They were very sociable when there was anything to eat - oppressively so. …. I suppose he has no enemies among men. The whites and Mohammedans never seemed to molest him; and the Hindoos, because of their religion, never take the life of any creature, but spare even the snakes and tigers and fleas and rats. If I sat on one end of the balcony, the crows would gather on the railing at the other end and talk about me; and edge closer, little by little, till I could almost reach them; and they would sit there, in the most unabashed way, and talk about my clothes, and my hair, and my complexion, and probable character and vocation and politics, and how I came to be in India, and what I had been doing, and how many days I had got for it, and how I had happened to go unhanged so long, and when would it probably come off, and might there be more of my sort where I came from, and when would they be hanged, - and so on, and so on, until I could not longer endure the embarrassment of it; then I would shoo them away, and they would circle around in the air a little while, laughing and deriding and mocking, and presently settle on the rail and do it all over again.

Hell Hound Rogers - In 1893, Twain was introduced to industrialist and financier Henry H. Rogers, one of the principals of Standard Oil. Rogers reorganized Twain's tangled finances, and the two became close friends for the rest of their lives. Rogers' family became Twain's surrogate family and he was a frequent guest at the Rogers townhouse in New York City and summer home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Clemens, wishing to make some acknowledgment to his benefactor, tactfully dedicated the book to young Harry Rogers. Excerpt from his autobiography.

Twain’s Patents & craze for invention

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) received his first patent (#121,992) for the "Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments" on December 19, 1871. The strap was used to tighten shirts at the waist, and was supposed to take the place of suspenders. Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) received two other patents: one for a self-pasting scrapbook (1873), and one for a history trivia game (1885). His scrapbook patent was particularly lucrative. According to "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch," he made $200,000 from his books, and he made $50,000 from the scrapbook alone.

In addition to the three patents known to be associated with Mark Twain, he financed a number of inventions by other inventors, but these investments were never successful. He lost a fortune on inventions, which he was sure would make him rich and successful. It has been said that Twain's unsuccessful investments (and his subsequent bankruptcy) lead to depression and a much darker view in his later works.

Twain and Gandhiji
Did Twain meet Mahatma Gandhi as claimed in many books and sites? GB Singh explains - The fact is Mark Twain did come across an individual named Gandhi in Bombay during his first week in India, but it was definitely not Mahatma Gandhi. To be more exact, Twain had actually met Mr. Virchand A. Gandhi, Honorary Secretary of the Jain Association of India.

Twain’s double death
Following the erroneous publication of a premature obituary in the New York Journal, Twain famously responded: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" (June 2nd 1897) while he was traveling.

He wrote in 1909, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it." And so he did, he died in 1910. Halley's Comet can be seen in the Earth's skies once every 75-76 years. It was visible on
November 30, 1835, when Mark Twain was born and was also visible on April 21, 1910, when he died (although the exact dates of Halley's highpoint were November 16th and April 10th, respectively).

Some notes
The title of this article is what Twain himself titled his notebook on India.
Twain’s other impressions of India can be read in his autobiography by A Bigelow Paine.
All of Twains books are available as ebooks, check here.

A literary analysis can be found here
A chronology of his life

The attached is a picture of a discarded page of notes from the draft the book. Here he recounts a slightly ribald story of a non-native English speaker who confuses the two meanings of "maid."

Twain had a tough time finding the lighthearted tone for the Equator book as he was severely depressed after his daughter Suzy’s death. She was looking forward to traveling with Twain to India following the meeting with Kipling but never made it.

My favorite Mark Twain quote - Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it. In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.

Pictures from the web - Thanks to the uploaders...


Anil Nair said...


Your blogs are among the best.. the ones I like most since the 'reiny days' which i used to read in late 1900's and early 2000's.. a diary started much before the blog era....

Keep going!

Having said that, i have to differ from you in opinion about Longhorn Clements. AKA Mark Twain, the steam boat driver from Connecticut. The yankee in King Arthur's court.

Twain was, and is, a great writer, charming, enchanting and inspiring, and above all loved by millions. To this day. Agreed.

One of my favourites. One whom i read after decades of (often useless) reading.

I would compare him to the moon.

What do you see in moon?

- Brightness when everything else is dark..

- A veiled beauty; perhaps a veiled passion too..

- Variance in mood every minute, like a girl in teen, like a woman in full youth, like an old woman in seventies.. and as cyclic..

- Charming, in essence.

But, then, frail.

Was Twait true to himself in all his writing?

I would love to believe so; but i was surprized he might even write things that he might not have seen..

[wait a second. let me fill the glass. Red. "Sebastiani". Not so expensive.. Cheers!)

I am sure you had a chance to read on of his early books - "Innocents aboard".

[ That book i brought from Ooty in 1984 or so .. Before Indira was shot :) ]

Remember in one of those 'exhilarating' paragraphs, how he "saw the full moon, at the same place, every day, at the same hour'" as he travelled to the Continent?

Well.. till then I worshipped them as a writer..

Since then i like him as a craftsman...

Honesty prevails.. even in writing.

Cheers again.. Looking forward to the next one.


narendra shenoy said...

Mark Twain was a fine man. Thanks for that great post, Maddy!

Maddy said...


thanks for the wonderful and educated comment.

In reply i will refer you to one of my earliest blogs...

But well - Twain was a chronicler of his times, and his work was meant to please himself, like any writer wants to and then of course to please others. It was to derive a profit, a revenue. Like any artist, you eventually strive to please, stifling your critical nature and sometimes, honesty! right?

We all write about things we never saw, but imagined and many a time with a purpose of sharing what we saw and were impressed by, using our own words..yes, of course.

Actually i hv not read 'innocents abroad' am waiting to get my hands on it. more on it after i read it!

Anil Nair said...


I sort agree to your point; we tend to add a little bit of flesh to bare bone here and there, but not much. This particular one was a pure impossibility, the moon cannot be seen in different phases on the same day at two parts of the world.

There is another angle to this memory. If I had read that book recently, I would hardly have noticed what he wrote. But think of a high school student, who never traveled beyond Madras and Bangalore, spending lone hours making a mental voyage along with the writer, believing that whatever he wrote were simple facts, and facts alone. Travelogue in those days were taken to be factual accounts of a travel, thanks to the style of SK Pottekkat.

The boy in me spent so many hours pondering on how the moon could behave like what Mark Twain wrote. And then suddenly it struck me: he was writing about some thing he never saw, except in imagination.

It was sort of a shock. Those young memories stay, and I could not trust Twain since. And that killed a lot of charms that his books other wise would have give me.

But, still I read him. :)

I will check out the link you sent. Thanks.


Praveen G K said...

Very good post; I actually like Rudyard Kipling a lot, atleast for the poem "If" that he has written. Truly inspiring!!!

Mark Twain is another brilliant writer, and his classics can be read a million times - Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn..are simply superb!!!

Thanks for a wonderful post!!

harimohan said...

mark twain a genius could guess indias greatness to the pin great post

Sirensongs said...

Oh, Twain meeting Kipling, to have been in that room. Tell me, WHERE can I find a copy of Following the Equator - I've been looking for years. It appears to be out of print, at least in India?

Maddy said...

thanks sirensongs for stopping by - you can find the book on amazon, also on google books