Monday, December 26, 2016

Gunga Din, Gunga Din, Where the hell 'ave you been

Yesterday, with all the family gathered around, the day was spent in lively conversation, eating, telling jokes, snoozing, storytelling, and reminiscing. The kind of environment where ties are reinforced, knowledge is shared, ideas generated, and discoveries made.

One of the latter of which was a minor incident in one of my sons' youth, perhaps when he was in fifth or sixth grade. The backstory is that we read a great deal to our children and quite widely. Picture books, poems, novels, nonfiction, ancient, classic, contemporary.

Among the favorites, both for parents and children, were the many works of Rudyard Kipling. Among the favorites of his (there could be no single favorite), was the poem Gunga Din.

We read the poem many times. There was a catch-phrase from the poem that my wife would use on occasion, usually when the kids were late.
Gunga Din, Gunga Din,
Where the hell 'ave you been?
Her mother had read Gunga Din to her in her time and that was a common extracted phrase in her own youth.

My son's story was an incident in English class where he quoted the line to his teacher apropos some topic they were discussing. She denied that that was a line from the poem. My son wondered at the fact that she didn't know it. All that was long ago and we knew nothing of it till it came up in conversation yesterday.

Then the debate arose. Where in the poem? Of course we looked it up and, sure enough, there is no such line. Sure, there is one line which it is a close paraphrase.
It was "Din! Din! Din!
You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
There are a couple of other lines of which it might be an amalgam. But fundamentally, the quote was no quote at all.

That discovery then led to its own debate; How could we have circulated this misquote, this "false knowledge" for at least three generations without noticing? We have all read the poem dozens of times and yet never paid attention to the fact that a quote from it that we used with some frequency, did not actually exist.

And when did it start? Grandmother was certainly using it when she was a young mother. Did she originate it herself to hustle along tardy children, or did she learn the misquote in her own youth? We will never know.

But of this I am sure. We'll keep on using it to chide slowpoke children.
Gunga Din
by Rudyard Kipling

YOU may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You limping lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippy hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!"

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind,
For a twisty piece o' rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry By!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
You put some juldee in it,
Or I'll marrow you this minute,
If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would dot an' carry one
Till the longest day was done,
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on 'is back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire."
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide,
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

It was "Din! Din! Din!"
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could 'ear the front-files shout:
"Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I sha'n't forgit the night
When I dropped be'ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst,
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.

'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' 'e plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water—green;
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
'E's chawin' up the ground an' 'e's kickin' all around:
For Gawd's sake, git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died:
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e is gone—
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

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