Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) and Rabindranath Tagore's Gora (1910) have several parallels. Each is about an Irish orphan who passes for Indian. Each is also a Bildungsroman, portraying their respective protagonists' coming into self-realization. The imperialist context informs both novels: the Indian nationalist movement is central to Gora, and the Great Game underpins the action of Kim. Both novels deal with the theme of personal identity as shaped by ethnicity, adopted and/or attributed, in a colonial context.
A stark difference is that Kim is aware of his Irish identity throughout, while Gora discovers that he is not of Indian blood only during the course of the novel. For Gora, discovering that he is adopted and not Indian by birth causes him to question not only his own identity, but also Indianness itself. For Kim, on the other hand, his ability to pass for Indian is an asset, providing a disguise as he conducts espionage on behalf of the Empire. Such parallels and contrasts have been discussed in many fora, from scholarly articles to newspaper pieces. Supriya Chaudhuri has commented that "there is of course a minor industry of articles comparing" the two novels (p. 109).
Yet I have not come across any discussion that takes into account the Irishness of both Kim and Gora. Typically, when the novels are compared, the difference between Englishness (or Britishness, more broadly) and Irishness is elided. For example, Dhananjaya Bhat writes: "Strangely enough the heroes of both the world classics were half Indian / half English." Given that coming of age against a colonial background is at the heart of these novels, the Irishness, specifically, of the protagonists would seem worthy of attention.
The protagonists' being Irish would problematize any straightforward distinction between a white colonizer and a brown subject. Both novels were written during a tumultuous time for Anglo-Irish relations. At the turn of the 20th century, Ireland was entirely under British rule, but a powerful independence movement led to the formation of the Republic of Ireland in 1921. By virtue of being an Irishman, Kim is situated in opposition to the imperial project, despite being a player on the English side in the Great Game; and while Gora's self-identification as Indian is undercut by his whiteness, his Irishness reinforces his identity as a colonized subject.
Insofar as Gora and Kim cross the strictly policed boundaries between the Indian and the white man, their Irishness would seem to reinforce their liminality. As Irishmen they could be identified as both colonizers and colonized. The question, then, is this: how do Kim and Gora thematize Irishness in their explorations of subject-formation in the Indian colonial context? Perhaps scholarship around the novels has discussed this issue already. If so, I'd be grateful for pointers.
- Bhat, Dhananjaya."Tagore and Kipling: Two Titans of Literature". Navhind Times (Panjim, Goa), 15 January 2011.
- Chaudhuri, Supriya. "The Nation and Its Fictions: History and Allegory in Tagore's Gora. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 35:1 (2012), 97-117.