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A JEWEL FIT FOR A KIPLING

19kipling_CA0-articleLargeWhile Rudyard Kipling was on honeymoon, he received the bad news that his bank had gone bust, taking his life savings along with it. The penniless writer and his young American bride, Carrie, decided to leave England for Brattleboro, Vermont, where they were able to build a home on property owned by Carrie’s family.

They christened their dwelling “Naulahka,” the Hindi word for “jewel beyond price,” which was also the title of a novel Kipling had co-written with his wife’s brother. While at Naulahka (pronounced now-LAH-kuh), the writer produced some of his best known works including The Jungle Book and the first of his Just So Stories. His fiercely protective wife guarded the door to his study, refusing admittance to the newspapermen and fans who frequently came to call on the now-famous author.

During his time in Vermont, avid golfer Kipling also invented the game of “snow golf” using red-painted golf balls and cups. His golf clubs remain at the house, which the family hurriedly left only four years after their arrival. When Kipling became embroiled in an ugly lawsuit against his alcoholic brother-in-law, who reportedly threatened to kill him, the resulting media hype spurred the publicity-shy writer to return to England.

Today Naulahka, which has been managed and restored by the Landmark Trust, can be rented by bibliophiles who want to soak in Kipling’s claw-foot tub or sit at the desk where the Nobel Prize winner penned his works.

[Photo: Nancy Palmieri for The New York Times]

The house where Rudyard Kipling was born in India is to be turned into a museum, but the author will be written out of history, failing to get a mention anywhere in the building because of “political sensitivities”. The foundation restoring the house, located in Mumbai, has shelved plans to use it to house a Kipling museum, fearing that commemorating the colonialist author of books like The White Man’s Burden will lead to a political uproar. Instead the house is slated to feature a collection of paintings by local artists.

Kipling was born in 1865 in the house, known as “The Dean’s Bungalow”, on the grounds of the JJ School of Art in the city then known as Bombay. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was the school’s first dean. Kipling went on to describe the location of the bungalow in his poem “To the City of Bombay” and his experiences there formed the template for the character he created in his novel Kim – a white boy who is indistinguishable from the Indian children around him.

Sharad Keskar, Chairman of the Kipling Society, explained, “You have a fairly ignorant officialdom in India, who don’t know much about Kipling apart from that he was an imperialist or part of the Raj. Officially he’s still persona non grata. I think that is changing, but it’s rather a slow change.”

img_0322.jpg“Behold us,” Rudyard Kipling enthused in 1902, “lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house–AD 1634 over the door–beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked.” After years of transiency and travels, the Bombay-born author of The Jungle Book and other tales had found “a real house in which to settle down for keeps” in the English countryside. Kipling went on to live in the sprawling Jacobean manor, known as Bateman’s House, until the time of his death thirty years later. 

As my book club is in the midst of reading Kim, set in colonial India and considered to be his masterpiece, I thought it would be fitting to journey down to Sussex and report back to the group what I’d gleaned about the domestic life of the beloved English author. Although I’ve visited dozens of author houses while researching Novel Destinations, Kipling’s home immediately became one of my favorites, perhaps because of its sheer splendor and old age or the fact that its original Jacobean decor (stone doors, 17th century oak panelled walls and floors, Inglenook fireplaces, etc.) remains remarkably intact. Equally interesting were the house’s austere, medieval-era furnishings, which, I learned, earned the Kiplings a reputation for having an  “uncomfortable hard-chaired home.”  

img_0325.jpgBateman’s remains almost exactly as the Kiplings left it, and among the many items that fascinated me were the bronze plaster wall hangings depicting characters from The Jungle Book,  created by the author’s ceramicist father. Although it was a rainy, blustery day, my husband and I enjoyed a walk around the multi-acre grounds to see Kipling’s pristine 1928 Rolls Royce and take in the pond and rose garden he designed himself and paid for with his 1907 Nobel Prize winnings. 

Prior to residing at Bateman’s, Kipling and his American wife lived for a few years in Dummerston, VT, in a custom-built home they christened “Naulakha“, a Hindi word meaning “jewel beyond price.” Today, the house (which is chock-full of its original furnishings, including Kipling’s pool table), can be booked as a vacation rental.

For deep-pocketed Kipling fans visiting London, I recommend a stay at Brown’s Hotel, built in 1837 by Lord Byron’s valet. The author penned portions of The Jungle Book during stays at the luxe hotel, and sadly, the Kiplings were lodging at Brown’s when the writer suffered a hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital. He died of a perforated ulcer six days later on January 18, 1936, the day of his forty-fourth wedding anniversary.–JR

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